Book Review for “Death in the Grand Manor: A Tessa Crichton Mystery” by Anne Morice.
Summary: “The narrator of this classic mystery is fashionable young actress, Tessa Crichton-obliged to turn private detective when murder strikes in the rural stronghold of Roakes Common. Leading hate-figures in the community are Mr. and Mrs. Cornford – the nouveaux riches of the local Manor House – suspected by some of malicious dog killing. Tessa however has other things on her mind when she goes to stay with her cousin Toby and his wife Matilda. There’s her blossoming career, for one thing, not to mention coping with her eccentric cousins. Also, the favourable impression made by a young man she meets under odd circumstances in the local pub. If it wasn’t for that dead body turning up in a ditch . . .”
Age: Adult; Genres: Crime/Mystery (cozy/classic), Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, England – Roakes Common (fictional), London; Other Categories: Novel, Vintage; Series: Tessa Crichton Mysteries #1.
Perhaps I should have entitled this review “I Think I Finally Found Another Agathe Christie” because boy oh boy, is this a truly classic type of murder mystery that hearkens back to that golden age when Christie was in her prime. We now call these “cozy mysteries” since all the blood, guts, and gruesome violence are left on the sidelines, and all we witness are the detecting and community bits. Why today’s cozy mysteries are entitled with such horrible puns and seem to have the inanest of covers, with cartoon animals all over them is beyond me. While I’m not crazy about the cover of this book, it certain evokes the 1970s, when this was originally published, which is surely a good thing (not bad, Dean Street Press), and we know right away that there’s a touch of romance in the air as well.
Let’s start with my biggest niggle about this book. Call me old fashioned, but when I see the word “death” in the title, I don’t expect to have to read more than half the book to find out who was knocked off. That said, I get that this was written to be the first in a series. That means that obviously, Morice had to set things up for us; to establish things like who Tessa is, her family, her background, and the people in her circle. In addition, Morice also had to let us get to know Tessa’s personality, and introduce essential characters (such as the police) who will are necessary to either help or hinder her investigations. Finally, Morice had to explain her motivations for Tessa getting involved, as well as how professional or amateur Tessa’s investigations are supposed to be. All of this took Morice some time, partially because she also wanted to throw in a romantic interest for Tessa, along with everything else.
The thing is, that would generally have annoyed me, and I remember thinking “so, when is someone going to die,” but only a couple of times, because Morice has made Tessa into such a delightful character. She’s witty and charming, as well as being smart. Furthermore, Morice makes her into an actor who seems to be on the cusp of fame. So, while the backdrop is set for the murder, Tessa is also preoccupied with her career, while also being a good cousin to Toby by watching his adorable daughter Ellen, while his present wife Matilda is out doing live theater on the road. (Yes, Matilda is also an actor, but apparently not as talented as Tessa, although just good enough, when push comes to shove.) Moreover, the death of a neighbor doesn’t stop Tessa getting involved with the dashing detective assigned to the case, but neither does it stop Tessa’s investigating who “done it” nor detour her own acting career.
You see, Morice was an absolute genius at lighthearted, but extremely intelligent prose, with the ability to write dialog that practically sings to us, right off the page. The wit and humor here is so sharp and smart, we can’t help find Tessa and her entourage anything less than gracious and charming. Obviously, there are villains here, because someone has to commit the murder, but even they are fun characters, and Morice makes you love to hate them, with absolute ease. Another thing that makes this a cozy mystery is that the person who dies is one of those hated characters, and well… no one is really all that sorry to see them placed six feet under. Furthermore, when we find out the solution, we are a bit surprised, which means there’s nothing totally obvious or predictable here.
Even though there was that lengthy wait to get to the death we anticipated from the title, I have to say that I think Morice was brilliant with how she built this first of her series. Getting to know Tessa well enough and throwing in the handsome stranger, certainly means I’m going to read the next book in the series (which too, was provided to me by Dean Street Press). If you’re looking for an adorable novel, one that will put you in mind of the Golden Age of murder mysteries, that’s not the least bit sentimental or saccharine, and with a dusting of romance, that all spells perfect escapism, then this is your book! I am very warmly recommending it and I think it deserves a very healthy four and a half stars out of five (but just because the body turned up so late the book)!
Dean Street Press re-released the 1970 novel “Death in the Grand Manor: A Tessa Chricton Mystery” by Anne Morice on April 5, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#16)