Fresh Meat: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison

Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison is the second cozy mystery in this contemporary English manor house, now facing the disruption of a high-speed rail project for Little Dipperton (available May 5, 2015).

Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall is full to bursting with characters I would love to befriend. If you have read any of my other posts, you are probably aware that I am a fan of cozy mysteries. Not to say I don’t like the other types of mysteries, or non-mystery genres for that matter. But there is something about the amateur sleuth oeuvre that appeals to me.

I know there are some authors of the genre who don’t like their work being called “cozy.”  I think, though, that what I enjoy about these mysteries is that they so often live up to that name in a good way. Cozy—giving a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation. And that’s what the good ones do. And spending time with the characters is like spending time with friends.

The main character is Kat Stanford, an antiques appraiser who has left her job on an Antiques Roadshow-like program to start her own business. Additionally, there is a dowager duchess, Lady Edith Honeychurch, who still rides sidesaddle. But there's also a gun-toting woman on a mobility scooter, a middle-aged woman trying to hide her secret identity as a writer of torrid romances—not completely successfully, and a sweet little boy who fancies himself an RAF squadron leader.

“Harry!” I said. “We’re not cross with you, we want to make sure you’re alright, that’s all. We’re not angry. Please come out.”

There was a rustle from above. We looked up to see Harry, standing on a wooden platform high in the oak tree. He was dressed in his Biggles helmet, goggles, and white scarf. A pair of binoculars swung around his neck.

“Squadron Leader Bigglesworth, I presume,” I exclaimed, addressing Harry’s alter ego.

“I wonder if Lady Lavinia even knows he’s missing?” said Mum in a low voice.

“What on earth are you doing up there, sir?” I said.

“I’m on surveillance, Flying Officer Stanford,” said Harry. “I’m afraid the enemy is afoot. The Germans are trying to build a runway but we soon saw ’em off, made ’em run.”

Protagonist Kat Stanford is a wonderfully complex character. She is, by turns, funny, sweet, smart, snarky, and exasperated. It’s the romance writer who most often tries Kat’s patience. The fact that the writer is also Kat’s recently widowed mother, Iris, who tends to make rash and questionable decisions along with making up her identity and ones for everyone around her, has more to do with their sometimes-strained relationship than the romance writing.

“Now that Dad is gone, why can’t you come clean? With everyone,” I said. “Tell Eric there is no villa or Pekinese dog. And whilst you’re at it, tell your publisher—”

“Graham. His name is Graham Gold?nch—”

“That your husband was not an international diplomat, nor did he die in a tragic plane crash, among other things.”

“It’s too late for that now.”

“Graham won’t care about your background,” I said. “It happens all the time in publishing. Look at J. K. Rowling? She wrote under a pseudonym.”

“I’m not J. K. Rowling.” Mum gave another sigh. “Alfred [Iris's criminally-inclined] stepbrother would have done such a good job transforming that wall into the Amal? Coast.”

“Now that he’s no longer taking care of retired circus horses in Spain?”

“Oh, her ladyship told you. I couldn’t say that Alfred has spent the last decade in Wormwood Scrubs prison,” Mum said with scorn.

Kat is also upset over a plan to run a railroad line through the middle of the Honeychurch estate and the nearby village of Little Dipperton. Most of the residents feel the same way. Then a charming man shows up to assess the properties the line will cross, and Kat can’t seem to bring herself to hate him. Of course, the gentleman who shows up to help stop the rail line, Benedict Scroope, is every bit as charming.

Desire, non-deadly as well as deadly, drives many of the characters to take drastic actions. The villagers plan an auction to raise funds for their protest against the railway. Little Harry runs away from the boarding school he hates, hoping to be allowed to attend the local school with his friend. Kat’s ex sends flowers every day, trying to win her back. And Kat just wants to get back to London so she can open her antiques shop.

However, events conspire to keep Kat on the Honeychurch Estate. There’s a death, a missing person, lost money and a long-lost relative that she never knew about. The only way out is for Kat to figure out just what is going on in her mother’s adopted home town.

I started reading the book at the end of a hectic two weeks. My energy level was pretty much non-existent. The leisurely pace was exactly what I needed. I sank into the setting and the story the same way I would have a hot bath and let Honeychurch Hall and Little Dipperton take me in. This is a community I want to visit again.

Therein lies the danger of writing these posts. My to-be-read list keeps getting longer and longer. The next book to add is Murder at Honeychurch Hall, the first book in this series. Then I will have to keep watch for the next one.

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Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo's Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel.

Read all of Debbie Meldrum's posts for Criminal Element!

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