Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Manna from Hades

Set in a fictional north-Cornish village, with a pseudo-sixties timeline, this cosy mystery novel is the first book in a new series by prolific author Carola Dunn.  This novel introduces us to Eleanor Trewynn, a widow who previously travelled the world working for an international charity, who has returned to Cornwall and has settled in the picturesque village of Port Mabyn.  Eleanor lives above a charity shop with her charming West Highlands terrier Teazle and spends her days driving around her corner of Cornwall collecting donations and items to sell in the charity shop.
Port Isaac, Cornwall

It is during one of these outings that she discovers that a briefcase filled with jewellery has been deposited in her car.  Later she discovers the body of a teenager in the charity shop's storeroom and realises that the briefcase is gone, although she had the foresight to stow away the jewellery in her own safe.  The mystery revolves around identifying the victim and unravelling the motive for murder, not to mention the mystery behind the generous donation of jewellery.

This is a smooth, comforting read with enough references to Cornish places to please and create the appropriate atmosphere.  It is peopled with likeable characters such as the indomitable vicar's wife, the dotty vicar, a witty artist as a next-door-neighbour and Eleanor's niece, Megan, who works for the Cornish Police in Launceston.  The grumpy Superintendent Scumble's frustration and sarcasm in dealing with Eleanor's constant forgetfulness and woolly thinking raises a few chuckles.  We are also reminded that women police officers were not the norm at that time and it is interesting to observe how Megan deals with prejudice and misogyny as she goes about her duties.

The adorable dog Teazle is beautifully drawn and her antics and personality shine through.  I found the dialogue and description of the countryside and people's movements and day-to-day tasks quite evocative and I found it an enjoyable read.  The only criticism I have is that Eleanor's constant lack of locking doors and her revealing information to the police piece-meal was a bit irritating, especially since you are several pages into the novel and you just want to shout at her to get on with it and tell the police about the pertinent clues she found but forget to mention.  I found that this stretched my patience a bit but it did eventually get better.

I read this novel as part of the Read Cornwall challenge devised by the lovely Fleur Fisher and will be seeking out the second instalment in the series.  Although it's set in the sixties, without mobile phones and other modern-day conveniences, I found that it worked quite well and I did picture myself in Cornwall throughout, which is a lovely bonus.


Anonymous said...

This one took a while to grab me, because Carola Dunn's Cornwall didn't work for me. To be fair she has written that it was idealised, and once the story was underway I was fine. A lovely set of characters, a nice mystery, and I love that dog!

The unlocked doors didn't bother me as my grandmother was just the same, but the vagueness and slowness passing on information bothered me too, particulary from someone with Eleanor's background and a policewoman niece.

I found the second book a little weak, but I still like the characters and the setting so I'll give the third book the benefit of the doubt when it appears.

And while I'm here and writing about Cornwall, I read your comment on Jo's blog and so I must tell you that I'm just a hundred yards or so from the Jubilee Pool and I used to have my school swimming lessons there.

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Hi Fleur! My friend and I had a short stop in wonderful Penzance a few years ago, en route to Porthcurno and Land's End, but we sadly didn't know about the Jubilee Pool then or I would have been in it in a trice!
It looks absolutely stunning and breath-taking and I am sad to read that it's future is uncertain but I hope that it will keep going. I really must try to visit Cornwall again this year and spend more time in Penzance and check out the Jubilee Pool in particular :-) It's such a beautiful part of the UK and I'm always pining to go back.

Darlene said...

I wonder if Verity knows about this one! She is always on the look out for books set in Cornwall.

Anonymous said...

I have only just discovered Carola Dunn and Daisy Dalrymple, now I will have to look this one out at some point as well.

Quite fancy reading some Cornwall set books at the moment.

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Darlene: I think this title was mentioned last year (or the year before?) when she and Fleur were talking about Read Cornwall. I don't know if she's read it though :-)

Jos: I read the first Daisy and mean to read a few more. It didn't bowl me over but was a nice read... I expect the series will pick up from there?
I also get in the mood to read about certain geographic areas :-) Have you tried Janie Bolitho's Rose Trevelyan mysteries set in Newlyn, Cornwall? There are 7 of them and the first is 'Snapped in Cornwall'. I've read the first 4 and like them a lot.

Cottage Garden said...

Any book that transports me to Cornwall is Manna from Heaven to me!!

I'm hoping to get down to Cornwall for the Daphne du Maurier Festival in May.

Hope you are enjoying some lovely Kent sunshine!


Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Jeanne: Absolutely! I hope you do go to the festival as I'd love to read about it :-) I've never been although I have visited Fowey a couple of times and loved the area.

I'm currently in Johannesburg enjoying some autumn sunshine - most welcome after a bitterly cold and wet week.

Enjoy the weekend :-)