The Curse of Arundel Hall (The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mysteries Book 2)
The Curse of Arundel Hall by J. New is a whodunnit set in the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, the inter-war years, on an island apparently somewhere off the English coast. The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, a young widow who lives in a haunted cottage. She tries to uncover its various secrets, notably the reason for the haunting, possibly connected to an old curse. She befriends several local people, all of whom are guests at a dinner at the Hall of the title, when a murder takes place. She has to struggle with her personal feelings for the suspects as she uses her local knowledge and investigative skills to help the police find the killer.
How many secrets will she uncover and how much danger will she be putting herself in, as she tries to solve the murder and the haunting? Is the legend of a curse true?
This is a decent two-layered mystery with plenty of clues appearing as the story unfolds. I did not guess the killer’s identity.
There is an uneven backstory. The protagonist’s early life is sketched in a concise and interesting way, up to her marriage. There then seem to be big gaps until we come to the start of the main story, when it settles down. It seems the missing narrative is in a previous book, but the link could have been dealt with more smoothly.
The history of the Hall is well told and quite interesting, but given in one big dump. Teasing it out, perhaps from different sources, might have been better.
Having all the suspects under one rather grand roof is a plot device used a lot by crime writers of the period, as is the denouement, where the detective gathers all the suspects together and goes through the reasons for suspecting each one and for ruling out all apart from the killer. It is a popular and logical approach, but a bit of a cliché.
I found it hard to believe that such a senior police officer would have got so involved in an investigation, but I acknowledge the author’s attempt at addressing that point, even if I remain unconvinced.
The book ends with the mysteries of the murder and the haunting being solved, but several loose ends remain. This leaves scope for the reader’s imagination plus the possibility of a series. I was impressed with the shock at the very end. (Sssh!) I was left hoping for a sequel.
The pace was satisfactory throughout. The story moved forward steadily, once we had got past the first few chapters. It did not get bogged down in superfluous description. Perhaps a little more pace and/or tension would have helped, but this genre does not require them.
Sex and Violence
The plot did not involve sex or violence, other than the inevitable violence of the murder itself. The discussions of forensics did not become too gruesome.
I liked the protagonist, whose character came through in both narrative and dialogue. I liked her attitude to the ghost: fascination rather than fear. The other characters were all well drawn, but tended to resemble those found in too many detective novels of the period.
The most original and delightful character was the phantom cat.
I applaud the writer’s practice of showing rather than telling.
There was not much development of any of the characters, but we discover different aspects of each as the story develops. As it is a whodunnit, the author rightly did not give too much away too soon.
For me, the level of detail of description of people and places was just right. The only exception to that was the island. I would have liked to know its size, location and nature. A couple of short paragraphs would have done.
Generally, I found it appropriate to the period, without being unnecessarily old-fashioned. I did however find a few clichés and also some modern expressions which grated in a novel of this type.
I was pleased to see the writer did not find it necessary to resort to profanity. She has a sufficient vocabulary to express thoughts and feelings in other ways.
I was disappointed to find a lot of errors of grammar and punctuation, giving an amateurish feel to the book and detracting from its overall quality.
I enjoyed reading this book and found a lot to like, in spite of noticing a few things that needed improving. More originality and fewer clichés in plot, setting and characters, as well as phraseology would have done justice to this work.