Everyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I like (love?) cozy mysteries. I read anything that catches my fancy, whether it’s light, dark, humorous or tragic, but I find I turn to cozies as a palate cleanser between deeper books. When another staff member recommended the Max Tudor series by G.M. Malliet, I was eager to give them a try. Growing up, I read numorous Father Brown mysteries by G.K. Chesterton and some of the Father Dowling mysteries by Ralph McInerny so the idea of a man of the cloth involved in murder, mayhem and the dark reaches of the human heart seemed like familiar territory.
Max is a former MI-5 agent who has become an Anglican priest and now resides in the tiny English village of Nether Monkslip, which sadly, like Miss Marple’s beloved St. Mary’s Mead, has an unusually high murder rate and circumstances leave Father Max in the thick of the action. There is a sturdy group of supporting characters in the village as well as Police Inspector Cotton and his forces from Monkslip Super Mare to move the action along but the stories belong to Max. The first in the series, “Wicked Autumn” centers on the murder of Nether Monkslip’s unofficial organizer. Wanda Batton-Smythe attempted to control everything and everyone in Nether Monkslip, usually through manipulation or intimidation, so when her body is found in the kitchen of church hall the entire village falls under suspicion. As Max finds the body and has special training due to his secret agent past, the task of finding the murderer falls to him.
In a throwback to Christie’s “And then there were None” , the second book in the series “Fatal Winter” concerns the stabbing death of Lord Footrustle and the death of his twin Lady Baynard. The murderer must be one on the family and when Max is sent by Cotton to console the family and prepare for the services, he’s actually on a spying mission to find the murderer. Among the cast of suspects are the daughter Jocasta, an actress past her prime, Lamorna the adopted and much put upon granddaughter,Gwyneth, the sex-pot ex-wife who is always in need to money, Lester and Felberta, the unscrupulous nephew and his grasping wife. The action is pleasantly paced and the mystery is well done, making for a satisfying cozy. I look forward to “Pagan Spring”, the third in the series and spending more time in Nether Monkslip.
G. M. Malliet is part of the ever growing group of American writers who write English mysteries. While I had been aware that Elizabeth George of Inspector Lynley fame and Martha Grimes who writes Richard Jury were both American, I was surprised last year to find out that the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, by Charles Todd, is actually a US mother and son team. Deborah Crombie, Nancy Atherton, Laurie R. King, C.S. Harris, Charles Finch and others, also seem to find murder more attractive with a cup of tea.