Saturday, December 26, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards

 It’s not light Christmas reading, but Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards is a compelling psychological thriller that kept me turning pages. It’s the second book in the Rachel Savernake series. Since I recently read Gallows Court (book one), I thought I should keep going before I forgot all the details. 

Much like the first book, Mortmain Hall is multi-charactered and complex. The plot is held together by the protagonist/anti-hero, amateur detective Rachel Savernake, and her enthralled sidekick, crime reporter Jacob Flint.

In a roundabout way, Rachel and Jacob reunite after an unsavory murder trial. The obviously guilty man is suddenly cleared when his ridiculous alibi is supported by a high-ranking government official/war hero. Jacob is poking into the crime for his newspaper. Rachel is peripherally involved, since this particular murder is linked in some way she has not yet figured out to the murder of a man she was trying to help. (This is an impossible book to summarize. There are far too many murders and suspects. The trick is figuring out what they all have to do with each other.)

In the course of his investigation (during which Jacob is almost framed for murder), Jacob comes into contact with a female criminologist/author, Leonora Dobell, who has made a hobby and a career of re-examining miscarriages of justice. She asks him to take an invitation to Rachel.

Leonora is fascinated by “the perfect murder.” She invites three notorious people, accused of murder but exonerated, along with Rachel, to her country home, believing they all belong to some sort of club. Jacob sneaks along for the ride at Rachel’s invitation.

The pieces to the puzzle fall into place slowly. When two (or maybe three) more murders occur at the house party, Rachel is the one who finally figures everything out. The denouement takes place as an old-fashioned detective story reveal: all major players are summoned into one room while Rachel narrates the crime and names the criminal. Meanwhile, a violent storm rages outside. The drama of the final scene would probably play better in a movie. It was a bit overwrought on the page. However, the unfolding of the plot was very satisfying. Rachel is a brilliant detective and a cool-as-a-cucumber heroine. Poor Jacob is a bit of a useful bumbler, but charming after a fashion. The show really belongs to Rachel. It’ll be interesting to see where the author takes this series next.

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