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Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
Cover Artist: Mary Ann Lasher
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250070432
Date: 05 May 2015 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

NOTE: This review of the hardcover edition of Murder at Honeychurch Hall originally appeared in our August 2014 issue of Gumshoe Review.

Kat Stanford quits her job as the host of a popular British reality show, Fakes & Treasures, in order to own and operate an antique store with her mum, Iris. Unfortunately, she learns that her mum has moved to the secluded village of Little Dipperton and bought a dilapidated carriage house on the equally crumbling estate of Honeychurch Hall. Upon Kat's arrival, the young governess, Gayla Tarasova, disappears. Soon afterwards, Kat stumbles upon a corpse in the grotto of the sunken gardens. While endeavoring to convince her mum to move back to London, she discovers many secrets about the estate, its eccentric owners and, most shocking of all, her mum who isn't the person she thought she was.

Hannah Dennison's Murder at Honeychurch Hall is one of the most delightfully entertaining cozies I've read in a long time. It's humorous and silly without becoming clichéd, tacky, and trite. It's realistic enough not to force readers to put their brains into cold storage. It has characters that are unique without being too outlandish and oddball. There is the adorable child and pet, which are requisites of all cozies. There is some romance. There is also a tremendous amount of soap opera-like drama that is the trademark of many cozies. Sometimes the mystery takes a backseat to the drama as though it is thrown in as an afterthought. That is not the case with Murder at Honeychurch Hall. There exists a mystery that is both intriguing and complex. Kat nearly loses her life while attempting to solve it.

I enjoyed the playful bantering and fussing between Kat and her mum. I laughed out loud many times. Some of Iris's witticisms are so silly they are funny. For example, in referring to the ringtone of Detective Shawn Cropper's cellphone, she said, "If he's passionate about steam trains he'll make a steamy bedfellow." Iris is always giving Kat grief about dating David Wynne who is still married to Trudy Wynne, hostess of Walk of Shame! Celebrity Family Secrets Revealed and Kat's enemy. This animosity between the two hostesses results in some hilarious hijinks that I won't reveal.

There is a lot of adultery occurring among the gentry and peasantry living at Honeychurch Hall. I didn't realize how class conscious the British are until I read this novel. The Dowager Countess Lady Edith Honeychurch is almost looked upon as a queen by the servants. Murder at Honeychurch Hall gives readers a glimpse of a bygone era of British history. In the early nineteen hundreds, the palatial mansion had more servants and gardeners to clean rooms, cook, and perform lawn maintenance. Now, much of the house has been abandoned. Unfortunately, many of these humongous estates have disappeared throughout Britain. During its heyday, Honeychurch Hall must have resembled the major tourist attraction, the Biltmore House and Gardens, in Asheville, North Carolina; this real-life estate remains a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

Sadness falls over me when I think of fading houses, fading beauty, and fading lives. Upon her arrival, Kat begins uncovering hidden secrets and old photographs--photographs of several main characters when they were much younger. Fortunately, there is laugher and happiness to offset the malaise. Harry Honeychurch, who is seven and pretends to be a WWI fighter pilot, James Bigglesworth, provides a lot of youthful energy; he is the hope for the continuance of the Honeychurch family.

As I mentioned earlier, there is romance, but it is very strained. Kat is growing tired of David constantly making excuses for not divorcing Trudy. While Kat begins drifting farther and farther away from David, she begins drifting ever closer to her mum; she is learning that her mum has been living a double life full of secrets.

Lovers of cozies will be glad they discovered Hannah Dennison's Murder at Honeychurch Hall. It's the debut of what promises to be an extremely entertaining series. Readers will enter a unique world--one that seems trapped between the past and the present. Isolated among pine forests, cow pastures, marshes and bogs, Honeychurch Hall has the appearance of a haunted mansion. Think Collinwood of the original Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Murder at Honeychurch Hall is filled with eccentric characters, both lovable and despicable, that will provide fodder for many humorous plots yet to come. I can hardly wait for the next installment.

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