April 10, 2018
Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Julia Lanchester's second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future. But before anyone can say "Will you," Michael's flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.
Before long, Julia's cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy's bachelorette pad. To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work - until death disrupts her plans. First a body is found on the estate. Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive. And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home - or her boyfriend - back, she'll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.
When Julia Lanchester and Michael Sedgwick, her live-in boyfriend, return from a wedding of two locals, love is definitely in the air. Julia can sense that Michael is about to propose, and it seems that he very nearly does, when his sister Pammy arrives on their doorstep...with everything she owns. It appears that Pammy's latest relationship - with a married man - has broken up and she's nowhere to go. So Julia and Michael reluctantly allow her to stay for one night in their tiny cottage until she can reach her friend Amy.
But one night turns into two, then three, then...well, you get the idea. It doesn't look like Pammy is going anywhere soon, and neither is Michael's proposal. So they try to get on with their lives, with Julia running the TIC (tourist information center) at the Fotheringill estate, and Michael, who works with Julia's father Rupert, is reluctantly filming a sequence with Julia's old beau, Gavin Lecky. Michael doesn't like Gavin at all, and he likes him even less when Gavin spies Pammy and is instantly taken with her.
But Julia has another problem, too. A man's body was found by her friend Willow who works at the school and is engaged to Lord Fotheringill's son Cecil. Willow has become distraught at finding him, and no one seems to know who he is. At least Willow has the comfort of her aunt Lottie to help her when Cecil is not around.
Then Julia has an unfortunate encounter with a man at a tea shop, and is not happy when he shows up in the village at the shop of her friend Nuala. It appears he's interested in Nuala, and Julia knows Linus, Lord Fotheringill, is also interested in her so she decides to step in and take a hand.
A nice family of four has also arrived at the TIC to explore the estate and like it so well they return the next weekend. When Julia figures out that they may have encountered the dead man (before he was deceased, obviously) she decides to contact them in the hope they may have information regarding who he is. She actually becomes chummy with the mother who is a graphic designer and starts helping them design pamphlets for the TIC.
Then there's the problem of a local farmer who was certified organic but Julia discovers he has ruined his fields. He knew Bob and even employed him once in a while, and Julia begins to wonder if he didn't do the man in because he knew what was done.
But the only thing anyone truly knows is that the poor dead man was named Bob, and nothing else. Yet somehow, someone must have, because poor Bob is now dead and at the morgue. And somehow, again, these stories become interlaced and have more of a connection to Bob than anyone realizes. It is nearly too late when Julia starts putting it all together and what a tale it becomes...
This book, as all the others in the series, was a true delight to read. Julia Lanchester quietly puts up with Pammy, who's flighty and seems to have no direction in life. It is only when Gavin enters the picture does it seem that Pammy might actually want to do something worthwhile; and Julia sees it as a way to eventually get back the home that Pammy has made her own.
There's enough intrigue and mystery here to keep anyone interested, and while at first it seems there is a lot going on, it all comes together nicely at the end. Julia has more patience than I ever would given the situation at hand; but unfortunately I didn't care for Pammy very much. While she may have seemed like a nice enough person, she rather insinuated herself in Julia's home and roving about the village while insisting she'd leave soon. Nothing pointed to her leaving, and family or not, she seemed to me to be an opportunist, one of the worst type of people there are. She was also too whiny for my taste. (I'm hoping Gavin will redeem her).
Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy her part in the book; she was just as important as any of the other secondary characters, we just can't like everyone, can we? (I think a lot of it was the fact that she just moved in lock, stock and barrel without notice or even trying to go anywhere else and didn't care that she was trashing someone else's home).
But the tale was masterfully written; the writing crisp and lively, the settings descriptive and broad, and the characters animated and believable. This is a village I would definitely want to visit, and these are people I love spending time with. Julia belongs to Smeaton-under-Lyme; she truly loves the estate, Linus, her friends, family, and of course, Michael. It shows in her dedication to her job and the people around her. It shows in the fact that she doesn't want a dead man not to be mourned, and wants to find out as much about him as she can.
Julia has heart, and that's an important characteristic in any human being. She cares. And that, my friends, is what makes the Birds of a Feather mysteries so very good. This is the fourth book in the series, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite as they are all so well done. Highly recommended.
More on Marty Wingate's Books: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/w/marty-wingate/