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Mrs. Jeffries in the Nick of Time (Victorian Mystery) by Emily Brightwell
Review by Don Metzler
Berkley Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425226780
Date: 03 March 2009 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Relatives and neighbors have gathered for afternoon tea in the drawing room of Francis Humphreys’ huge house on the outskirts of London. Uncle Francis is late coming down for tea, unusual for a man who prides himself on punctuality, and who on a regular basis sends telegrams of complaint to the Great Western Railway when the 3:09 to Bristol runs late.

As the guests wait expectantly for his arrival, there is a sharp report from upstairs.

“It was a gunshot,” Leo Kirkland says, and they all rush up the staircase to Francis Humphreys’ study. They find the man slumped over his desk, a bullet hole in his forehead, quite dead.

Inspector Gerald Witherspoon is assigned to the case, and along with his longtime assistant, Constable Barnes, he arrives on the scene within a short while. Immediately the policemen are confronted with a conundrum. In interviewing the family and guests who were present in the home that afternoon, it becomes evident that the only people who might possibly have had a motive to murder Francis Humphreys were the very people who were all gathered downstairs in the drawing room at the time that the gunshot was heard. In other words, each of the suspects can give an alibi for each of the others!

It is time for Mrs. Jeffries and her crew of unlikely detectives to go to work.

Mrs. Jeffries has been Inspector Witherspoon’s housekeeper for several years, years during which Witherspoon’s reputation at Scotland Yard as a master crime solver has grown in leaps and bounds. What Witherspoon does not suspect is that his spectacular success is due largely to the hints and clues that are subtly fed to him during his evening chats with Mrs. Jeffries, usually over a glass of sherry.

Mrs. Jeffries is an amateur sleuth in the spirit of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. But there are two important differences between Mrs. Jeffries and Jane Marple. The first is that where Miss Marple chose to work her detecting magic in a solitary fashion, Mrs. Jeffries employs a sizable staff of part time investigators that includes all of the servants employed in the Witherspoon household, as well as several friends from outside the house. The second difference is that Miss Marple was well known to her local constabulary, if not always entirely appreciated by them. Mrs. Jeffries, on the other hand, works in complete anonymity. Her hints to the inspector are always so guarded and subtle that Witherspoon has never fully realized whence his crime-solving inspirations originate.

So after the baffling murder of Francis Humphreys, the game is afoot once again. Mrs. Jeffries sends Wiggens the footman one direction, Smythe the coachman another, and Betsy the maid yet a third, all in search of clues that may be pertinent to the case. Mrs. Goodge, the elderly cook, will carefully pry information from her sources, as will their friends, eccentric heiress Luty Belle Crookshank and her butler, Hatchet.

Together, this unlikely group adds up to a formidable investigatory force. But will they be up to the task this time around? For they soon realize that the killing of Francis Humphreys may be the most complex case they have ever come up against. And worse yet, Mrs. Jeffries and crew will have to work quickly if they hope to prevent a second murder.

The Mrs. Jeffries stories are written in the style and spirit of the Victorian cozy mysteries, and Agatha Christie would be proud. Author Emily Brightwell provides the reader with a perfect balance of old-time gentility and ruthless, cold-blooded murder, not to mention ample mystery and intrigue in the tradition of the best whodunits. Brightwell’s writing style is fluid and fun to read. Her descriptions of the Victorian London locations carry the ring of truth, and add greatly to the allure of the story.

Mrs. Jeffries In the Nick of Time is a winner, and will be a delight to any reader who has enjoyed Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, or indeed any of the previous books in the Mrs. Jeffries series.

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