Last week we went to St. Petersburg, Florida for a short trip to experience train travel and explore the city. Usually when we go to Florida we go to the beach, so this was a new kind of trip, one concentrating on the urban area.
We had a marvelous time, St. Petersburg is a place I would encourage visiting to anyone wanting to dip their toe in a little southern atmosphere coupled with some interesting art and museums. The train was also an interesting experience, and a good learning event for us. For one, we discovered it was much roomier than air travel, and easier on the mind than trying to drive. On the other hand, you may be subject to delays. Our return train was a little over two hours late, which meant we didn’t get back home until after 3:00 AM. That was a bit tiring because we had elected to travel coach instead of a sleeping car. The lesson? Coach is fine during the day, but if we’re going to be late in the evening or in the middle of the night, then we may have to rethink that decision.
Checking in with NetGalley the day before we left, II was excited to see that the new (to me) Faith Martin book, THE OXFORD MYSTERY, was on offer. I’ve read all four of the previous books and enjoyed them, so I thought this would be the perfect book to take on our trip and enjoy while riding the rails. I’m delighted to report I was I correct in my expectation. This is another winner in the series. If you’re curious, here’s my review.
The Oxford Mystery is the fifth in the Faith Martin series featuring Jenny Starling. In this novel, Jenny has accepted a summer position as head cook for an Oxford University that opens its doors during the summer to groups and organizations for retreats and conferences. The school’s idea is to add much needed funds to their cofers, the organizations like having the prestige of meeting in a well respected institution and Jenny’s idea is to have a confirmed place to live and guaranteed income for a few months. None of them are planning for a murder, but that’s what they get.
Maurice Raines, president of a taxidermy society Jenny dubs “The Great Jessies”, is murdered on the first day of the conference. The murder occurs in the main hall where the group meetings are held and when classes are in session the students and faculty assemble for meals, meetings, etc. Because the hall had been emptied of people either rushing to enjoy an unexpected buffet set up by Maurice or attendees participating in other lectures or demonstrations, the question arises as to who other than Maurice was in the hall. With everyone seeming to have a solid alibi, the police are stumped.
Once again, Jenny is plunged into the middle of an investigation, and once again she encounters a reluctant Detective Inspector and his Sergeant. This time, the bursar of the college has gotten wind of Jenny’s previous successes in solving murders and he is focused on as quick a resolution as possible to save the college any embarrassment. He quickly pushes Jenny into the middle of the investigation, telling the staff to take any suspicions they have directly to her. While the detective’s on the case aren’t enamored of Jenny’s help, her reputation has grown enough for them to realize she may be of some assistance. Their goal is to discover the perpetrator before Jenny, a feat their colleagues have been unable to accomplish.
Possible murderers range from a jilted lover to a jealous spouse. Who would want Maurice dead? He was pompous and often saved the plum assignments and lectures for himself, but was that any reason to murder him? Sure, he had engaged in his share of extra marital affairs, but was his wife, who was having an affair of her own, resentful enough to have murdered him? What about the wife’s lover? Did he get rid of Maurice in order to clear the way for his relationship to become more than an affair? Did one of the other taxidermists want to do away with Maurice in order to further their career?
From the beginning, there are some clues that stand out as being important, however, no one other than Jenny seems to know how they fit together. As in the previous novels featuring the junoesque cook, nothing is quite as it seems until she explains everything to the authorities. Then the reader, along with the detectives, may be sitting there wondering “How did I miss that?”
As in the other books in the Jenny Starling series, this mystery stands alone. Jenny is the only recurring character and there is only a brief reference to her earlier exploits. The mystery is well crafted, both with clues and red herrings, although I had reached the correct conclusion about the murder and other events, it was still enjoyable to read how Jenny reached her solution.
My thanks to NetGalley and Joffe Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book. The opinions stated her are entirely my own.
THE OXFORD MYSTERY, along with several other Jenny Starling mysteries are available now through a number of outlets. I highly recommend any or all of them, whether you are preparing for a long train ride or just looking for something to read in the evenings as you are winding down from a hectic day. As always, happy reading.