Before then and for a good while after, though, background information on the characters and the estate of Mullings is thickly applied while the plot barely shuffles along, making the novel feel as mild-mannered and unexciting as the Stodmarshes, known for centuries in Dovecote Hatch for their “mopish propriety.” When the first death occurs, only Florence Norris, head housekeeper, guesses it was murder, but the lack of firm evidence prevents her from voicing her suspicions. Her loyalty to Ned, whom she had raised since birth, leads to her estrangement from pub owner George Bird, her potential love interest.
The story gains ground as more subplots involving Stodmarsh relatives, the caring and loyal Mullings servants, and their connections are introduced. When the elderly Lord Stodmarsh unwittingly brings a nefarious woman into his household, the resulting scandal really livens things up. Details on the peculiar aristocratic tradition of keeping an ornamental hermit add even more color. Overall, the book is more successful as a period saga than as a crime novel. It’s an enjoyable diversion, but hopefully future volumes will have improved pacing and a less passive sleuth.
Murder at Mullings was published in January by Severn House (£19.99/$28.95, library hardcover, 256pp). This review appeared in the Historical Novels Review's May issue as an online exclusive.