Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mrs. Malory: Death of a Dean by Hazel Holt

76. Mrs. Malory: Death of a Dean (also known as just Death of a Dean) - seventh in the Mrs. Malory series
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1996
finished, 12/28/10

Oh, what a relief is it to read the Mrs. Malory books. Hazel Holt is a wonderful author who not only tells a good tale, but does so with really good writing. Her knowledge is vast, and I learn something new with each book. In this one, she quotes Pevsner in reference to a cathedral. There are also several references to various plays. Such things add enormously to a book, I think.

Her descriptions are sublime like this one of an office in the Deanery.
It was a largish room that also had stone walls and a vaulted ceiling. There was one large, arched window set in a massive stone frame, looking out onto the roof of the cloisters below. The whole tone of the room was medieval, ecclesiastical, monkish even, so it came as something of a shock to find that the main piece of furniture was a modern office desk on which reposed, as if on a shrine or altar, a very new, state-of-the-art computer.
As I've mentioned before, one of the pleasures of reading cozy mysteries is that usually the murder victim is an utterly unpleasant person with rarely any friends or family who love him or her. That way, we readers can enjoy the detection work without even a pang of sadness for the victim! Occasionally, the person we know will be killed lives on for far too long, as in this book. The dean lives till page 107!

Another pleasure that often occurs in a cozy mystery is when the amateur detective is respected and even called upon by the 'real' detective or policeman who is investigating the case.
"I believe you are a friend of Inspector Eliot here at Taviscombe?"
"Why yes," I said in some surprise. "He's married to my goddaughter."
"He tells me," the inspector continued, "that you have a very good eye for details and a very good idea about what makes people tick."
"Did he!" I exclaimed. "Goodness!"
"He said that you'd given him quite a lot of help on some of his cases, one way or another."
"Well, I did a bit, I suppose."
"I just thought," he said, "that if you do happen to notice anything, or if something occurs to you, then I'd be glad to hear from you ... "
I feel this way when I'm watching television mysteries as well as reading books. I like to concentrate on the case at hand, and not get sidetracked by any infighting. I don't like it when a detective is antagonistic to someone who really is able to help and offer good information.

Reading Mrs. Malory books is a bit like reading a long letter from a friend, telling of her adventures. I can imagine such things as this being noted in a newsy letter.
I was up about six-thirty the next morning. Both the dogs are getting old now and I like to let them out into the garden as early as possible.

I love street markets and am sad that so many nowadays consist merely of stalls of cheap clothing and cut-price household goods. Culminster market, though, I'm glad to say, retains much of its original charm and you can buy fresh vegetables with the red soil still clinging to them, local cheeses, lardy bread and the sort of heavenly fudge that you can positively feel destroying your teeth and bumping up your cholesterol level!

I had a bad night. For no apparent reason. Usually I sleep like a log, zonking straight out, my book often slipping from my hand and the light still on. ... I sat up in bed, put on the light and picked up my copy of North and South again. I read doggedly on for some time and gradually, soothed by the solid and familiar world of Mrs. Gaskell, I felt my lids grow heavy and slept at last.
I don't know about you but I don't get many long letters anymore filled with such daily details, and I wish I did. Maybe if I wrote some, I would get some in return, but in the meantime, a book by Hazel Holt telling me of Mrs. Malory's life will suffice quite nicely.

Oh, and the case. Sheila Malory's actor friend David comes to stay with her for a while. He's having financial difficulties which may result in him losing his wonderful house in Stratford. His brother, Francis is the Dean of Culminster Cathedral, and though their relationship has not been a close one, and though Francis is a priggish, self-absorbed, demanding man, he hopes that perhaps this wealthy brother will help him out. When Francis dies, and it is found to be murder, David is a prime suspect. Mrs. Malory is positive her old friend couldn't have done it, and attempts to find out who really did the deed. There are many possibilities, including Francis' own wife and children, who have been under his thumb for years.

I loved this book, as indeed I do all the Mrs. Malory mysteries. I look forward to reading each book in the series, and then perhaps reading them all over again.


  1. Oh Nan, what joy! Your delightful review of one of my absolutely most favourite authors (because like you, I think of Mrs Malory as an old friend and want to know all the little details of her day) made me think that I should look to see which of her books might be available and I found four of them are on Kindle, including My Dear Charlotte, her Jane Austen one, which I have been aching to read and couldn't find a copy of! So huge thank yous - I bought that one immediately, and have three more to look forward to (I already have The Cruellest Month, which is the one I have liked best of all so far).
    All the very best for 2011.

  2. Because of your enthusiasm for Mrs. Malory I read my first one last year and really liked it!! This series sounds as if it has a lot to offer!

  3. I've never read any in this series. I know, what's wrong with me? Never even heard of it. Well, I can see I'm going to have to do something about this, especially after your enthusiastic recommendation. I'm always on the look out for some good 'cozies'.

  4. This sounds like one I'd like. I love ecclesiastical books. Have you read the series about the Church of England by Susan Howatch? I think you'd love them. The first one is called Glittering Images. You'll learn a lot from them, too.

  5. Geranium Cat, I love the character and the books so very much.

    Staci, I have a feeling that as you get a bit older, the books will mean even more to you!

    Yvette, if you want, you may type 'Mrs. Malory' into my search bar so you can read about the others in the series - so far. I am quite, quite sure you will love them.

    Debbie, I have not heard of them but will check them out. Thank you!

  6. It sounds definitely like a series I would enjoy, so I am going to check the online catalogue of my hometown's library to see if they have any of the books.
    You are so right about the letters. I do send them, and I get them, by email - which makes it a lot easier for me to write them, as I find handwriting a real challenge, whereas my thoughts just flow when I am at a keyboard :-)

  7. I love Mrs Malory, Nan, she's another of my favourites. (And in answer to your query on the previous topic, yes do read Miss Silver in publication order. You get a real feel for the social history of the 30s & 40s though some of the plots are a bit silly!)

    May I be really, really cheeky and put in a plug here for my own - slightly ecclesiastical - contemporary cosy mystery, 'Murder Fortissimo', out on Jan 31st? It features a retired headmistress and her sidekick, a clergyman, and is a country house murder with an updated twist! An early reader says it reminds her of Sheila Malory!

  8. She sounds really great. I'll have to keep her in mind for when I'm looking for a cozy mystery!

  9. Librarian, I can see good points to both kinds of letters. I tend to write longer notes by hand, and save emails for quick responses, and texts for even quicker notes. :<)

    Nicola, I'm thrilled about your new book!! Congratulations. I'll certainly be on the lookout for it. (and for Miss S.)

    Dorothy, it is such a great series.

  10. I rarely read "cozies," but the passages you quoted have piqued my interest greatly. I am reminded of the lovely details of ordinary life in Rosamunde Pilcher's novel, The Shell Seekers. I, too, love long chatty letters, but don't receive them like I used to. I need to add Mrs. Malory to my TBR list! Wonderful, wonderful review, Nan!

  11. Les, thank you very much. I'll tell you a secret. I like the Mrs. Malory books better than the Pilcher books. I think Hazel Holt is an excellent writer. I barely look at them as mysteries, rather just incidents that happen around Mrs. M.


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