Murder Is for Keeps by Elizabeth J. Duncan is the 8th book in the Penny Brannigan Mystery series.
I tend to grab books with certain settings, such as Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, just to name a few. Basically, most exotic locales will get my attention. I suffer from severe vertigo and have a fear of flying, so I probably won’t ever board an airplane. This is the way I get to venture to these faraway lands. Murder Is for Keeps is the 1st of the Penny Brannigan series I’ve had the pleasure to read—the 8th book in the series—and I knew as soon as I read the blurb that this was exactly the type of cozy mystery that would fill my soul’s longing for wanderlust that can’t be achieved traditionally.
This story revolves around what was once a magnificent structure: Gwrych Castle, a real place that author Elizabeth J. Duncan fell in love with. Located in Abergele, North Wales, it’s unfortunately been left to ruin, as it has in the story. Intrigued by the fact that it was a real place, I researched the castle and was not disappointed with what I found. I was able to really imagine the castle during its peak. It does hold a type of haunted mystique, even through my computer screen.
Ms. Duncan's incredible descriptions of the castle are elaborate, giving it a life-like quality. You feel like you’re there. And having a main character that is an artist—a painter to be exact—who is in the process of painting the castle was the perfect combination to capture the beauty.
At the bottom of the narrow path, she set off on a wider, smoother pathway that led past the main building of Gwrych Castle, an immense Victorian castellated mansion. Or what was left of it. Now, it was an abandoned, ruined shell of its former Gothic self, shrouded in decades of neglect but yet somehow maintaining the silent, faded dignity of its long-ago grandeur.
Add in a dead body found on the grounds, and now you have the mystery.
Penny and her retired cop friend Gareth are thrown headfirst into the mix when Penny stumbles upon the body while on the castle grounds painting. Both of them work with the police to help figure out what happened. Meanwhile, the locals are trying to raise money for the conservation of Gwrych Castle when a second body—a much older skeleton—is unearthed in the original garden. Gareth’s deceased grandmother just happened to have been a seamstress at the castle in the 1920s, and she soon becomes a part of the story of the unknown skeleton. As it’s revealed, little by little, what happened to the man Penny found, it all ties together in a neat package.
Penny’s love and reverence for historical locations is apparent throughout. She treats it all with delicacy and respect, wishing to share the beauty through her art. This is an endearing trait, and gives a rich look into the area.
They had decided to walk the long way to Penny’s cottage and were almost halfway across the narrow seventeenth-century, three-arched bridge that spanned the River Conwy when the local bus turned on to it. They scuttled to safety in one of the small spaces where the stone bridge widened slightly to allow pedestrians to avoid traffic, and flattened themselves against the well-worn stones as the bus rumbled past. The bridge had been built to accommodate pedestrians, people on horseback or perhaps a horse-drawn cart, and Penny worried for the integrity of the beautiful structure every time a bus rumbled over it. She wished another bridge could be built farther along the river to handle modern vehicles, leaving this one to foot traffic, to do the work it was designed to do centuries ago.
It’s easy to see why this is an award-winning series. A delightful read, and a good cozy mystery to curl up with one weekend for a quick getaway to North Wales.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.