Review: The Marmalade Murders by Elizabeth J. Duncan

The Marmalade Murders

Elizabeth J. Duncan

Penny Brannigan Mystery Series

April 24, 2018

The Marmalade Murders is the ninth book in Elizabeth J. Duncan’s award-winning mystery series, celebrated for its small-town charm and picturesque Welsh setting and starring amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan.

I would love to add a visit to Llanelen, Wales, to my bucket list, but alas, the town is the invention of the creative mind of Elizabeth J. Duncan, author of the highly engaging Penny Brannigan cozy mysteries. This is my ninth visit with Canadian expat Penny, who now lives in the cozy market town. Each time I visit, I want to book a flight!

Yes, it is often wet, but the frequent rain in north Wales contributes to deepening the green of the spacious countryside. Let’s see for ourselves. The Marmalade Murders opens on the first bright day after three days of torrential rains. We can walk along as Penny heads to work.

And on that sun-drenched Wednesday morning, Penny Brannigan gave Harrison, her handsome grey cat, a good-bye pat, locked the front door of her cottage on the edge of the North Wales market town of Llanelen, and set off on her walk to work.

She moved in a brisk, purposeful fashion, taking strong, confident steps. Her red hair, expertly trimmed into a well-shaped, blunt bob, lifted gently from the sides of her face as a light breeze ruffled it. Raising her eyes skyward, without slowing down, she marvelled at how the heavy pewter sky of yesterday had magically transformed into a brilliant, benign blue. She breathed deeply, filling her lungs with fresh, pure air, rinsed clean by the recent rain.

Her walk to work at the Llanelen Spa, which she co-owned with her friend and business partner Victoria Hopkirk, took her past open fields bordered by grey stone walls. And because of the freshly fallen rain, the grassy fields, here in the valley and on up into the hills, were an especially deep, bright shade of green. Vivid, even. Haydn Williams, a local farmer, had once explained to her that the striking green effect had to do with the plants’ roots being able to absorb more nitrogen from the soil after a heavy rain.

Busy as her day is, Penny stops for a breath when a client, Mrs. Lloyd, asks for a few moments of her time. Turns out Mrs. Lloyd is asking for more than a few! This year, the committee that runs the annual Llanelen agricultural show is shorthanded, and Mrs. Lloyd is desperate for Penny to take on a few tasks for the event. Among other things, she would like Penny and Victoria to receive and record the cakes, pies, pastries, jellies, vegetables, and floral arrangements to be judged in a grand tent known as the marquee.

It sounds simple enough, and all goes rather well—although Mrs. Lloyd’s friend Florence Semple is nearly late for the drop-off but gets her cake and marmalade into the tent just before closing. The next morning, Florence is stunned that not only did her cake not win but both her cake and marmalade entries are missing from the exhibit. In the meantime, Penny is dealing with Gaynor Lewis’s granddaughter, who is upset that grandma didn’t arrive in time to see her win a ribbon in the pet contest.

Later, under the marquee, Penny is having tea with her friends when the show’s president’s black lab, Billie, comes over and nudges her way under the table.

Billie’s tail began wagging and she backed out from under the table, leaving the tablecloth swaying gently behind her. Licking her lips, she charged past Penny, a white blob clinging to the top of her black nose. Curious, Penny raised the tablecloth and, lowering her head, peered under the table. Then, she lifted the cloth higher and steadying herself with one hand on the table, sank to her knees.

“I think we’ve found Florence’s carrot cake,” she said, looking over her shoulder at Mrs. Lloyd. “And that’s not all.”

So can you guess? Of course, you can—along with the cake, there’s a dead body under the table. What else would there be? Never fear, Penny will figure out why murder has come to the agricultural show, and things will be set right.

This is the ninth novel in the series, and I have enjoyed each and every one. I love everything—the town, the people, the clientele at the Spa, the quirky weather—but most of all, I love Penny, who remains cheerfully resolute no matter what the day presents. Quick now, pour yourself a cup of tea and snuggle into your favorite spot with a copy of The Marmalade Murders by Elizabeth J. Duncan.

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