Death in Disguise slayed me with its first sentence:
“The Royal Victoria Hotel, Whitebridge, was widely considered to be a superior hotel for superior people, and most of the guests who stayed there would have thought it very bad manners to allow themselves to be murdered within its confines.”
How could I resist a mystery about a woman so gauche as to allow herself to be murdered under such circumstances? I couldn’t. I didn’t. The author rewarded me, strewing the story with many delightful witticisms while weaving a complex and memorable mystery.
Make that mysteries. The fatal faux pas is one. The victim’s identity, and her presence at the Royal Victoria and, indeed, in Lancashire itself, are others. And they all tie into a murder committed some 54 years in the past, with the accused unsatisfyingly acquitted but not cleared of suspicion. This ending is all a reader can expect, unmasking the identity of victims and villains in crimes old and new.
I’d not read the earlier Monika Poniatowski mysteries, nor the DCI Woodend series that preceded them, but I wasn’t lost. The story had just enough hints of earlier events to pique my interest in the past without pulling me out of the present. The setting is handled with equal ease. The “present day” mystery occurs in 1978, while the old murder took place in 1924. Nothing shouts nostalgia, nothing constantly reminds you that the present day is not, in fact, present, except that detecting does involve detecting and not simply forensic sciences.
All in all, this was a pleasure to read . . . good writing without gratuitous violence or embarrassing sexual encounters. Hints of the unsavory provide a bit of spice without making the reader squirm in discomfort. Nothing unmannerly, except murder, of course!
The hardcover edition is now on sale with a list price of $28.99 (USD) but an actual price of $24.09 (USD) at Amazon.com; the Kindle edition is available for pre-order with an expected release date of 1 August 2016, at a price of $20.93 at the time of this post.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House, via NetGalley. Sis, and Severn House, would have thought it very bad manners to expect anything more than an honest and independent review in return.
Description: When the body of an American woman is found in the Prince Alfred suite at the Royal Victoria Hotel, DCI Monika Paniatowski is faced with one of the most baffling cases of her career. The woman who called herself Mary Edwards had been a guest at the hotel for the past two weeks, having paid cash in advance. But who was she really – and what was she doing in a small town like Whitebridge? If Monika could discover why the dead woman had come to Lancashire, she would be one step closer to catching her killer. The investigation takes an intriguing twist when Monika learns of a possible link to a 50-year-old murder – but the only person who could tell her why it’s relevant is lying in a coma.
About the author: Sally Spencer is the pen name of Alan Rustage, first adopted when he wrote sagas and convention dictated that a woman’s name appeared on the cover. Rustage was a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. He worked in Iran in 1978-78 when the Shah was overthrown. He writes that he got used to having rifles – and on one occasion, a rocket launcher – pointed at him but was never entirely comfortable with it. He lived in Madrid for more than 20 years and now lives in the seaside town of Calpe, on the Costa Blanca.
His first series of books were historical sagas set in Cheshire (where he grew up) and London. He has written 20 books featuring DCI Woodend (a character based partly on a furniture dealer he used to play dominoes with) and 10 or so about Woodend’s protegé Monika Paniatowski. His DI Sam Blackstone books are set in Victorian/Edwardian London, New York and Russia, and the Inspector Paco Ruiz books have as their backdrop the Spanish Civil War.