Murder at the Mill came in the mail and proved a surprisingly intense mystery. Based on the cover, I was expecting a cozy Christmas tale, but discovered an exceptionally well-plotted, character-driven, complicated, and complex whodunnit.
In the sense that the story takes place in a small community with an amateur detective, Murder at the Mill fits into the cozy slot. There are no serial killers, violence is downplayed, there are plenty of clues which are neither misleading nor definitely pointing to a particular suspect. The clues keep the field open, and the reader must ponder the significance and weigh the possibilities. Murder at the Mill doesn't rely on violence or graphic descriptions, it is a true puzzle of personalities and past events.
The intricate plotting is typical of Agatha Christie, but the character development is much more layered and complex. The author creates multifaceted personalities for all of the important characters and keeps the reader uncertain not only about the who, but also about the why.
Iris Grey, a portrait artist, takes a cottage in a small village to escape the stress of her failing marriage. Her landlords are Ariadne and Dominic Wetherby. Dominic is a celebrated writer of crime novels who has a large personality and a national reputation. Ariadne is a sculptor, but that is only a small part of her life as she is the quintessential wife and mother figure--in love with her husband and devoted to her children. The middle son, Billy has only recently been released from prison and is an angry and difficult young man.
Commissioned to paint a portrait of the celebrated Dom Wetherby, Iris uses her artist's eye to examine not only her sitter, but the entire family. Her skills of observation are called into play when Dom's body is pulled from the river and what appeared to be suicide becomes a murder investigation.
An intelligent puzzle of a contemporary mystery that combines a Golden Age of Detective Fiction vintage feel with three-dimensional characters. Murder at the Mill kept me so involved that I felt almost like a presence in the novel.
M.B. Shaw is the pen name of Tilly Bagshawe.
I can't wait for more in this brand new series, not only because I took such pleasure in the slow unfolding of the plot, but because Iris' next commissioned portrait is in Scotland.
ARC from Minotaur Books
Mystery. Dec. 4, 2018. 387 pages.