Ah, small towns. Everyone knows everything about everybody. Except when they don’t.

Murder in Dulwich means secrets in Dulwich and secrets mean that someone needs to investigate. In Alice Castle’s new London Murder Mystery series, that someone is Beth, mother, journalist, odd-jobber and, suddenly, amateur investigator.

What’s it about?

Meet Beth Haldane, thirty-something single mum. She’s delighted to land a job as an archivist at local posh school, Wyatt’s, but her first day is rather spoiled by her discovery of a dead body. Worried that she will be the prime suspect, Beth determines to discover the real culprit, despite investigating police officer Harry York’s repeated warnings.

As she speculates wildly about the dead man’s life and steadfastly procrastinates doing the job she was hired to do, Beth seeks to discover the dark secret lurking at the heart of Wyatt’s. Is it all a conspiracy? Will she be silenced? How on earth did the editors make the previous editions of the school paper so frightfully boring? Beth will find out the truth, even if it costs her the job…

What’s it like?

Amusing. Cosy. Gently entertaining. Beth is very likeable, which is probably quite important in a cosy crime caper like this one. When she persists in “investigating” by, basically, chatting to people who might be involved and reading a few bits of paper, the fact that she discovers anything at all is verging on the ludicrous (a yoga session gives her what may be a vital clue), yet somehow she does and the tone of the narration renders this all so delightful that readers can just set aside issues of plausibility.

‘The trouble was that the thought of going back to the little archive office…was horrible, to say the least. She’d just have to hope that she’d be stopped by that nice police constable before she got that far. Then she could just hang out in the main reception area, with other people safely around, and see what she could glean. All right, it was a little sketchy around the edges, but it was definitely a plan. Sort of.’

I liked Beth’s confidence and her concern for her son. The mystery itself was sufficiently engaging and the final solution was brilliantly in keeping with the focus on Dulwich expectations and pretensions.

Final thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, though I wouldn’t have minded fewer references to Dulwich attitudes and expectations. I also wasn’t convinced that Beth would have ever become the prime suspect, which she claims is her main motivation for investigating…but I did believe that she was just irresistibly drawn to solving a mystery she felt so personally connected to.

Convincing characters, gently comic writing and a nicely-paced mystery with a fitting dénouement. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series, tentatively titled ‘The Girl in the Gallery’.

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2017, Crooked Cat, ARC paperback
Many thanks to author Alice Castle for offering me a copy of her book in return for an honest review.