Friday, February 18, 2011

Mrs. Malory and the Only Good Lawyer

14. Mrs. Malory And The Only Good Lawyer - eighth in the Mrs. Malory series
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1997
finished, 2/8/11

Do you know the Mary Engelbreit quote, 'Life is just so daily?' Well, that phrase kept popping up in my head as I read this Mrs. Malory book. It is so daily and that's why I love it. Sheila cooks and feeds her cat and walks with the dogs. She loves her son Michael to pieces, and is happy that he lives with her while doing law work in his late father's firm. She frets and she rejoices. There are people in her life who annoy her and people she treasures. She is truly an everywoman, and the reader feels that Sheila is a friend. A literary friend yes, but a person very like our own real friends if we are lucky.

When an unpleasant house guest is found murdered on the beach in her town, of course Sheila Malory gets involved. Graham Percy was a friend of Sheila's late husband, and her home is one of the stops on his tour of friends each year.
A more sensitive or perceptive person might perhaps have noted a certain lack of enthusiasm, a rather forced joviality on our part, but Graham, like all self-centered people, sees what he wants to see and, I'm sure, always describes us to other people as his oldest and dearest friends and looks forward to his visit in Taviscombe as one of the high spots of his year.
As the story progresses, we find out that everyone he visited thought him a disagreeable man. He was a 'hanger-on' who tried to push himself on others even as a young student. We wonder why they all put up with him year after year. This is one of those mysteries where the sins of the past cast long shadows.

The book is sprinkled with literary references from Shakespeare to Jane Austen. Mrs. Malory is a scholarly woman, yet utterly unpretentious.
... the kitchen, which was a large, airy room, with blue and white flowered curtains, a Welsh dresser laden with brightly colored crockery, an Aga, a heavy kitchen table covered with a deep blue chenille cloth, and several comfortable chairs. On the seat of one of the chairs, curled up on a patchwork cushion, was a large tabby cat. The whole thing looked exactly like the stage set of some 1930s comedy by Eden Phillpotts.
In addition to being a wonderfully descriptive passage, I so enjoyed the mention of a writer I hadn't heard of before. And as often happens in life and reading, I just finished an Agatha Christie book which was dedicated to Eden Phillpotts 'to whom I shall always be grateful for his friendship and the encouragement he gave me so many years ago.' I've gone looking for his work but sadly not much is available. I'll search some more for I think he is someone I would enjoy reading. Though I haven't mentioned it for ages, this is an example of what I call, 'the Guernsey effect' from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
And fans of Jane Austen will love this:
"Oh, do look, David! There's a McDonald's here now. All done up in the local stone, but definitely a hamburger joint, here in Bath. What would Jane Austen have said? Or her characters? Think how sarcastic Mr. Knightley would have been, or Mr. Darcy!"
"Oh, but think," David replied, "how Lydia and Kitty Bennet would have loved it! Hanging out at McDonald's would have been so much more fun than trailing into Merryton to catch a glimpse of the militia!"
I will offer a warning to not look at the cover too closely as you read because sadly, and incomprehensibly, it could give away 'whodunnit!'

This may be my favorite Mrs. Malory book so far, and after I finished, I thought to myself that I could probably be very happy reading only these four mystery authors: Hazel Holt for cozy mysteries, Agatha Christie for old mysteries, and Deborah Crombie and Arnaldur Indridason for modern mysteries.


  1. Well, Nan - I have NEVER heard of these books. Gasp! Where have I been? Okay, the Mrs. Malory books go on my TBR list. When I'll get to them, I'm not sure. But get to them I will.

    Also, of course, Deborah Crombie (at your urging) and now Indridason whom I have heard praised everywhere.

    Every few days my tbr list gets revamped. A nightmare.



  2. This looks good, but whenever I take your recommendations, it costs me money! This one was not available as a new book on Amazon, so I've ordered a used one. I've been meaning to write you to thank you for your recommendations on Deborah Crombie. I've just finished her first, A Share in Death, and loved it. It's great to have the rest of the series to look forward to. Now I suppose I will have to get something by Arnaldur Indridason! There is no end to this...

  3. What a great descriptor - "the Guernsey effect". I love it. I use it all the time and now have a wonderful name for it. It is so rewarding, I think, to read a novel that takes you hither and yon upon reading it, piquing one's curiosity to learn more about a subject, an author, an event.

    I enjoyed your review and will need to find this series and Hazel Holt. Thank you.

  4. I love this series too, one of my favourite cosy mystery writers. I love the domesticity of Sheila's life. There used to be more about her literary work in the early books, lots of references to Charlotte M Yonge which I always enjoyed. Hazel Holt was Barbara Pym's friend & literary executor & wrote a biography of Pym. As BP is one of my favourite writers, I've always enjoyed the connection of the two writers.

  5. Oh yes, I am one of those people who enjoy the dailiness in a book very much; it helps me to really get into the story and the characters. This one sounds as if I'd like it, too.
    The kitchen description has me wondering about who'd put a chenille cloth on a kitchen table - shouldn't a kitchen table be scrubbed wood, with no cloth on it? In my eyes, a kitchen table is worked on, food is prepared there, someone may knead a dough on its surface, and you certainly do not want a table cloth there :-)

  6. I love Mrs Malory. I've been doing a few talks lately and am surprised that a lot of people are unfamiliar with the term 'cozy' with regard to mysteries. (Or 'cosy' this side of the pond!) When I explain, and tell them this is what I write, they're always interested.

    (PS Nan, as a mystery lover, you might like this review from dear Geranium Cat:

  7. I loved this one too Nan!

  8. Delighted that you have enjoyed another Mrs Malory 'adventure' by Hazel Holt, one of my very favourite writers of the cosy crime, or as I've referred to her "Queen of the Cosy"!
    Margaret P

  9. Oh, Yvette, I think you will enjoy this series. I love it. And I'm thrilled you are hearing Indridason 'praised everywhere' -

    Carol, I've gotten all my Mrs. Ms as used paperbacks. I own quite a few now. I'm happy you liked DC - and the books that follow are just as great as the first. And oh, AI - the best, best! And you are right- there is no end.

    Life on the cutoff, if you want to read more book reports, you could just type 'hazel holt' into my search bar. I just love her work.

    Lyn, I too, love Barbara Pym. I haven't read the biog. yet, but sure do enjoy the writing of both these great writers.

    Librarian, most always in British books the authors write of those 'scrubbed tables' - this tablecloth was new to me, also.

    Nicola, I left her a comment, but I think she hasn't moderated it yet. I was SO excited your book is out!

    Rambling Fancy, have you read the whole series??

    Margaret, 'queen' indeed! I so agree.

  10. I love the sound of this one! Thanks for introducing me to a new author and series!

  11. Jenclair, I'm so pleased! If you type 'Mrs. Malory' into the search bar, all the book reports will come up. (when you get the end of one page, click older posts for more)


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