Robyn Beecroft’s book started off strong and engaging and only got better as I rapidly made my way through this page-turner cozy mystery. If I didn’t have a fascination with the Fenlands of eastern England, Morris dancing, Oliver Cromwell, and the Straw Bear Festival of Whittlesea, I certainly do now! I won’t go into detail about the pleasant hours I’ve since spent delving into these rich subjects and locations, but will turn to convincing you to buy this gem of a book, which deserves (and will eventually get, I’m sure) a wide readership. I’m already tapping my foot, waiting eagerly for the sequel. Meanwhile I plan to read it again, now that I have studied the area where the mystery unfolds.
From page one I knew I was in the hands of a truly skilled writer, who knows the ingredients of great stories and how to mix them together in just the right proportions. There are two stories here, one a whodunit about a gruesome murder that is discovered at the height of Witchelsea’s Straw Man Festival, and the other about claiming one’s identity.
First, the murder.
“They looked up in time to see the blackened husk of the Straw Man burst apart and fall in flaming gouts into the center of the fire. The corpse inside sagged forward, but for one long instant its blackened clothes and roasted skin were visible to all. Blood coursed down both sides of its now unrecognizable face.”
A cozy mystery murder scene doesn’t get any better than this, and it shouldn’t get any worse! In this genre, explicit gore is kept to a minimum, sufficient only provide a motivating threat to propel the plot forward, and here the author hits it just right.
The two main characters of the book are Rory, who pieces together a living by writing three blogs about gluten-free cooking, gentlemen’s outfitting and ghost-hunting, and Haley, a Beyonce-lookalike who works at a pub called the Village Inn. They are caught up in the search for the killer to prove the innocence of Haley’s uncle Jimi who is in danger of becoming the main suspect. Haley believes this is partly because of his race. There are many more twists, turns and romantic complications to come, and as we spool through them we are treated to the passing scenery—the wilds of the Fenland marshes, the spectacle of Morris dancing, and plenty of local village color.
Integrally woven into the fabric of the plot are much larger issues, such as the willingness of some people to condemn people of color, trans-gender and gay folk and immigrants. This is accomplished without being the least bit heavy-handed and with a dollop of insight and compassion. The mystery unravels with real suspense and is sprinkled here and there with mischievous humor, lush description, and poignant observation.
On top of the mystery plot, we are treated to a parallel story, watching Rory and Haley evolve from timid and unsure caterpillars into self-accepting and bold butterflies. Through conflict with family members, confronting their own self-doubt, and meeting head-on the challenges of finding the murderer, they manage to claim their identities—Rory as a gay man who can now pursue a romance with Zach, the handsome policeman, and Haley as happily unattached, free to project whatever gender she wakes up feeling like in the morning.
Don’t miss this fast moving and satisfying read! And if you like it as much as I think you will, give it a review. It deserves a wide audience!