From the publisher—
With her personal life in disarray, Julia Lanchester feels she has no option but to quit her job on her father’s hit BBC Two nature show, A Bird in the Hand. Accepting a tourist management position in Smeaton-under-Lyme, a quaint village in the English countryside, Julia throws herself into her new life, delighting sightseers (and a local member of the gentry) with tales of ancient Romans and pillaging Vikings.
But the past is front and center when her father, Rupert, tracks her down in a moment of desperation. Julia refuses to hear him out; his quick remarriage after her mother’s death was one of the reasons Julia flew the coop. But later she gets a distressed call from her new stepmum: Rupert has gone missing. Julia decides to investigate—she owes him that much, at least—and her father’s new assistant, the infuriatingly dapper Michael Sedgwick, offers to help. Little does the unlikely pair realize that awaiting them is a tightly woven nest of lies and murder.
When I first picked up The Rhyme of the Magpie, I expected a typical English village mystery but this is a bit of an anomaly. Yes, it’s set in an English village and it’s a mystery but there the expectations go off the rails. The most obvious difference is that the sleuth is a newcomer to the village and, because of that, there are only a few villagers that we get to know. I miss that because the interweaving of villagers’ lives is so often a large part of the story, even the core of the solution to the mystery.
Not only is the sleuth new to the area but the criminal activity is, in some ways, a step away from the village, meaning it isn’t happening because of some element unique to the village. Also, there is hostility between two factions that could happen anywhere, the eternal fight between conservationists and those who value land development and other commercial enterprises over the preservation of habitats. In other words, there’s a feeling of watching at a distance rather than being totally immersed. This is not a bad thing, just a caution that Ms. Wingate’s story is not what you might normally anticipate.
Julia is a likeable woman and she’s in the midst of making some critical changes in her life. Other than the mystery itself, I found this aspect of the story to be most interesting as she tries to find a way to fit into an environment so different from what she’s used to. Although I didn’t move to a new town, I did uproot my career after many years and started over so I had a lot of empathy for Julia. The other thing I like about her is that she’s not inordinately reckless and, well, TSTL, another departure from so many mysteries of this kind.
Other characters, while not as well developed as Julia, are fleshed out enough so that I felt comfortable with them and I’m sure we’ll get to know them better in future books. Michael is intriguing, as any potential love interest should be, and Vesta and Linus are a good introduction to the denizens of the village. All have their parts to play in the murder investigation and, wonder of wonders, the local police are competent, another difference from some amateur sleuth novels. When Rupert, Julia’s TV celebrity dad, disappears and a body is found, the hunt is on for the missing man and a killer who has a gruesome touch. Are they one and the same?
All in all, this first in the series is a good effort and I’ll be back when the second book comes out.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.
About the Author
Marty Wingate is the author of The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and the upcoming Between a Rock and a Hard Place and a regular contributor to Country Gardens as well as other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. More Birds of a Feather mysteries are planned.
Follow the tour here.