Book Review: Death Comes to the Rectory by Catherine Lloyd

In Catherine Lloyd's eighth Kurland St. Mary Mystery, a massive snowstorm and a bloody murder cast a dark shadow over the christening of Major Sir Robert Kurland and Lady Lucy's daughter Elizabeth.

This is the last of Catherine Lloyd’s Kurland St. Mary stories. The series comes full circle from Death Comes to the Village (2013) and it’s a pleasure to catch up with familiar personalities and storylines.  Death Comes to the Rectory is a closed village mystery since inclement weather traps everyone in the village of Kurland St. Mary.  

Let’s set the stage. Major Sir Robert Kurland and his wife Lady Lucy are celebrating the christening of their daughter Elizabeth. Coincidentally, Robert’s Aunt Rose announces that she is pregnant. Not everyone is happy about the news, in particular, Rose’s adult daughter Henrietta and her husband, Basil, who both fear for her inheritance. Basil and Henrietta Northam are greedy and unreasonable. Rose has been very generous to her daughter and her son-in-law but for the grasping pair, that’s not enough. The Northams arrive on the Kurland’s doorstep, uninvited and unwelcome, much like a Wicked Fairy upending the christening of a baby princess. Lucy’s father, the Reverend Ambrose Harrington, also seems to be undergoing some financial difficulties. Sir Robert is unsympathetic to his father-in-law’s plight. He has long thought that Harrington’s selfishness and pride contribute to his financial insecurity, sparking an uncomfortable conversation with his wife, Ambrose’s daughter:

“Damnation! If he sold off half the bloodstock in his stables, he could pull himself out of debt in an instant, but that would never occur to him.”

 

Lucy rose and shoved in her chair. “You are in a most disagreeable mood this morning.”

Christenings should be happy occasions, an opportunity for family and friends to toast the new babe and strengthen the ties that bind. Basil and Henrietta’s outbursts put pay to that notion: “Following the christening, Rose’s disagreeable son-in-law Basil Northam threatens to turn afternoon tea in the rectory into an unsightly brawl.”

Basil’s dead body is found in the rector’s study the next morning, stabbed in the chest by Lucy’s father’s letter opener. Later Lucy discovers a damning note in the dead man’s coat: Meet me at the Rectory, or leave the village, and let this matter rest! It is a tribute to her reverence for the law and her respect for her husband’s impartiality (he is the law in the village), that she seeks out Robert immediately.

“Where did you find this?”

 

“In Northam’s coat pocket.”

 

“It suggests that someone asks him to appear at the rectory this morning.” He studied her closely. “What’s the matter?”

 

“That’s my father’s handwriting,” Lucy blurted out. “I would recognize it anywhere.”

Why would anyone want to kill Basil (other than him being thoroughly unpleasant and reprehensible)? Like many mysteries, the prime directive is to follow the money. It transpires that everyone except Robert and Lucy has a connection to a fraudulent money-raising scheme but rather than come clean, they lie, dissemble, and misdirect. Robert is very put out: after all, these people are his relatives, in-laws, and closest friends, including a man he has served with in the Army.  At times, Robert wishes them all to the Devil.  

Lucy and Robert are often at odds in Death Comes to the Rectory. Understandably so since her father is the prime suspect in Basil Northam’s death and Robert is the local justice of the peace. A massive winter storm makes it impossible for anyone to depart. Poor Lucy is running an upscale bed and breakfast albeit with some “guests” treated as prisoners. Yes, she has servants galore, but someone must direct them. Robert is infuriated by the cavalier treatment of his horses—every time he turns around, a guest has commandeered one of his steeds.

Death Comes to the Rectory is an enjoyable coda to a memorable series. When we first met Lucy Harrington she was a downtrodden drudge, in servitude to her selfish father.  Robert Kurland was at death’s door, an almost-casualty to the vicissitudes of war.  Years later they are the lord and lady of the manor, respected by all, and still in alt to have found each other. Let’s give them the last words.

Robert brushed a kiss on his wife’s forehead and stepped back. “I am tired of this, my love. I never want to deal with another dead body again. I want our visitors to leave and our house to get back to normal.”

 

“I can’t argue with any of that.” Lucy smiled back at him. “As far as I am concerned, the sooner they all leave the better!”

Many thanks to Catherine Lloyd for an enjoyable historical mystery series. Time for a re-read!

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