Hazel Holt is one of my favourite writers of traditional English crime. Her books are set in Taviscombe on England’s south coast, & the town is a perfect setting for mystery & murder. Our detective is Sheila Malory, a retired teacher; a widow with a married son & much loved granddaughter. Sheila also has two extremely spoilt pets; a dog, Tris and a Siamese cat, Foss. I can always empathise with Sheila as she opens yet another can of food to tempt fussy Foss or gives up & cooks some chicken for him instead.
Sheila is a kind woman with a wide circle of friends & very involved in her community. Her kind nature also leads her to be imposed upon & when her friend, Monica, asks her to help out at a local charity shop while she’s away for a few weeks, Sheila reluctantly agrees. Her best friend Rosemary, who would never allow herself to be imposed upon, thinks she’s mad but Sheila has promised to help & is reluctant to let Monica down. The shop is run by Desmond Barlow, a bossy, unpleasant man who completely dominates his wife, Wendy, who also works in the shop. Newcomer Norma Stanley has aspirations to take over the shop as she has every other committee she’s joined since she & her quiet husband, Marcus, arrived in Taviscombe. The other women working in the shop observe the clash of wills & try to keep the peace while dodging Norma’s superior remarks & Desmond’s sarcasm.
It’s no real surprise when Desmond is discovered dead in the shop one morning, stabbed with a knife that was last used to open a box of donations. The till had also been robbed so the motive for the murder isn’t straightforward. Apart from Norma & Wendy, there are several suspects. His son, John, had been bullied into a university course he hated & wanted to do something completely different. He had supposedly left for college before the murder but is it true? Wendy seems completely unmoved by her husband’s murder. She immediately makes plans to move to Birmingham to be near John & adopts a stray cat that Desmond had hated. There’s also the mysterious man who was seen talking to Desmond several times in the weeks leading up to the murder. Or was it whoever stole the money from the till?
Sheila is confused by Wendy’s attitude & surprised to discover that several people had been seen entering the back of the shop on the night of the murder. Sheila’s knowledge of human nature & her sympathetic manner enable her to discover a lot about the main suspects & her investigations take in the past lives of everyone involved to untangle the events that led to the murder.
I always enjoy Hazel Holt’s books. Sheila is a lovely character. Warm & sympathetic but also determined to get to the truth. I’ve read the whole series over the years & I especially enjoyed the early books where Sheila was still writing & reviewing in her specialty, 19th century literature, particularly the work of Charlotte M Yonge. Still, there’s always the animals & her best friend, Rosemary. There’s also my favourite character, Rosemary’s formidable mother, who usually manages to enlighten Sheila on some aspect of the case usually through her remarkable memory of local gossip stretching back over 50 years. This lovely series is still in print as paperbacks or ebooks & it’s perfect for lovers of the traditional English mystery.