It is 1929. Asharton Manor stands alone in the middle of a pine forest, once the place where ancient pagan ceremonies were undertaken in honour of the goddess Astarte. The Manor is one of the most beautiful stately homes in the West Country and seems like a palace to Joan Hart, newly arrived from London to take up a servant’s position as the head kitchen maid. Getting to grips with her new role and with her fellow workers, Joan is kept busy, but not too busy to notice that the glittering surface of life at the Manor might be hiding some dark secrets. The beautiful and wealthy mistress of the house, Delphine Denford, keeps falling ill but why? Confiding her thoughts to her friend and fellow housemaid, feisty Verity Hunter, Joan is unsure of what exactly is making her uneasy, but then Delphine Denford dies…
Armed only with their own good sense and quick thinking, Joan and Verity must pit their wits against a cunning murderer in order to bring them to justice.
Death at the Manor is the first in the Asharton Manor Mysteries series: a four part series of novellas spanning the twentieth century. Each standalone story uses Asharton Manor as the backdrop to a devious and twisting crime mystery, from bestselling crime writer Celina Grace, author of The Kate Redman Mysteries
Obtained on promotion from Amazon as an ebook.
This is a short book that certainly has the possibility to be expanded out as a longer story, if not a fully fledged book. Joan starts work at the Asharton Manor as Senior Kitchen Maid, but it isn’t long before she becomes aware of the tensions in the house. Delphine Denford’s brother John Manfield is not long back from Africa and is unmarried, rakish, exotic and seems to have an eye for the ladies. Delphine’s husband spends much of his time working in London. Delphine’s best friend Cleo lives in the house and for a while it appears that she is having an affair with one or more of the men. Delphine herself is constantly falling ill from unknown illnesses and her final illness proves to be fatal.
Joan has previously worked in London, where her best friend Verity (shockingly well read and educated for a parlour maid) still works. Between them, they discuss and solve Delphine’s death with amazing ease. The acceptance of Verity arriving for a day’s “busman’s holiday” was a little implausable but not impossible. I was going to say something about the speed of getting from London to the West Country but checking the times of modern trains it can be done in under 2h30mins – so not impossible to do in 3 or 4 hours in the 1920s.
As number 1 in the series, the story could have done with some padding out and therefore adding to the tension. As the series is based around the Manor and gardens, for example, the ritual pagan site could have become a lot more threatening – it was never discussed in the house and only made one appearance during a walk.
In all, not a bad story, with any perceived failures more due to the novella format than the author’s skill. Authour’s website is here