Murder at Mullings (A Florence Norris Mystery)
by Dorothy Cannell
Review by Gayle Surrette
Severn House Publishers Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727883384
Date: 01 May 2014 List Price $28.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
First, I'd better mention that I've been a Dorothy Cannell fan since I first stumbled across The Thin Woman so many years ago. So, learning she was beginning a new series, I thought I just might find a new sleuth to enjoy and Florence Norris is indeed a remarkable character who is clever as well as smart, and very, very good at her job.
This series of mysteries seems to be set between the two world wars, which gives it lots of scope, and the setting is Mullings, the home of the Stodmarsh family of Dovecote Hatch. Florence is the head housekeeper of Mullings. Being the first book in the series, a lot of time is spent setting the reader up with the background on the Stodmarsh family, their home, Mullings, and the surrounding area and the times the story is set in. I found myself pulled into the setting and getting to know the area so strongly that I was in a few chapters before I realized that we hadn't had a murder yet. For some readers this may seem slow but it actually pulls you into the time period and makes the whole story richer as readers now have context for what is happening.
Florence began working at Mullings when she was 14 as a kitchen maid. She worked hard and moved up to becoming head of housekeeping by the time our story really gets going. She's an avid reader of mysteries and loves to share her opinions of books, authors, plots, and characterizations. She's very observant of what goes on around her and a good judge of characters. The mores and behaviors of the family she works for, and of the times, may seem strange and yet familiar to readers of the other books or media set in the same time period.
The Stodmarsh family fits into the town of Dovecote since they are one of the larger employers of the area when you include servants, groundskeepers, and those who rent or work the farms owned by them. It all works but times are changing. Some of this change is viewed by George, the new owner of the local pub, and friend of Florence's, who also loves to discuss his reading material.
Murder, when it comes to Mullings, is perhaps not what readers were expecting, though it is shocking in its way. The motive is the mystery because there are several possibilities, but many seem farfetched even to astute readers. However, when it's all explained at the end, it all comes clear and you wonder why you didn't figure it out earlier.
This has the makings for a good solid series and I look forward to more Florence Norris mysteries and the tying up of some of the threads left dangling in the personal lives of some of the characters at the end of this novel. Fans of Downton Abbey should also enjoy this series though it's far less political and more centered on the people and their lives in and around Mullings.