Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #2
Published by Alibi on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Manager of a tourist center in a quaint British village, Julia Lanchester finds herself with more ideas than time. Her boss is the Earl Fotheringill himself, but apart from him, she doesn’t mix well with the aristocracy. Unfortunately, toxic mold forces her from her cottage and into one of the earl’s countless spare rooms at the Hall. She tries to get a handle on her overload of work, while she finds herself arguing with dinner guests, chaffing at the sudden interest the earl’s son has in running the estate, and missing her new beau, Michael Sedgwick.
Her life goes from bad to sinister when Julia discovers poisoned sparrowhawks on the expansive estate grounds. And soon after, she finds one of the Hall’s visitors murdered—felled by the same poison. While simultaneously both spooked and angry, she still can’t keep herself from snooping, and dragging Michael along into her investigation. But will she find the culprit before her own wings are clipped?
If you like cozy mysteries in small English towns, you can’t go wrong with either of Marty Wingate’s series. Her Potting Shed series (The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House and Between a Rock and a Hard Place) all feature an American gardener who has come to England to look for her roots and get a fresh start on her life in new surroundings.
Empty Nest and the first book in her Birds of a Feather series (The Rhyme of the Magpie, reviewed here) feature Julia Lanchester, the daughter of a famous BBC bird expert and naturalist. In The Rhyme of the Magpie, Julia is starting a new life opening a tourist information center in lovely Smeaton-under-Lyme. She’s taking up a new career to get out from under her father’s formidable shadow.
As the second book in a series, Empty Nest takes us further along Julia’s journey with established characters, while providing a new mystery for Julia (and the reader) to solve.
I’m not sure Empty Nest was quite the right title for this story. Using the birding theme, “cuckoo in the nest” might have been a better bet. Most of the various nests in this story never seem to be empty, but the person filling them is never quite who anyone thought they were.
Throughout the story, Julia is in an awkward social situation that contributes to many of the misunderstandings that are part of the story. In Rhyme of the Magpie, Julia began a romantic relationship with her father’s new assistant (and her replacement in that role) Michael Sedgwick. But in Empty Nest, Julia’s own nest is empty. Her private little cottage is suffering from a toxic mold infestation, and she has found herself living at Fotheringill Castle while the local lord, who is also her boss and her landlord, gets her cottage fixed. The problem here is that Lord Linus is none-too-subtle about his wish for Julia to become the next Lady Fotheringill, and Julia is decidedly not interested. But while Lord Linus isn’t subtle, his lack of subtlety does not feel actionable. He never does anything wrong, but he arranges events so that everyone around knows that he sees Julia as his next wife, no matter how much she protests. While this situation is increasingly awkward, it’s easy to see how Julia gets stuck. She doesn’t want to call Linus out, and yet she feels constantly uncomfortable. All too many women have been in situations that feel like this.
At the same time, Linus’ pointed preference for Julia is making a lot of other people uncomfortable and they are definitely acting on that discomfort.
The new estate agent keeps asking pointed questions about every step of Julia’s plans to bring more tourists to the village. As does Linus’ son, who returns like the prodigal, unannounced and unexpectedly. In Cecil Fotheringill’s wake come his friend Freddy Peacock and his predatory mother Isabel, Linus’ first (and very definitely divorced) wife.
Julia is on the spot, as Cecil, the new estate agent Geoffrey Addleton and Lady Isabel all do their level best, for varying reasons, to poke their noses into every single idea and decision that Julia even attempts to make. Their constant oversight makes her question her own decision-making, and leads Lord Linus to question her as well.
When Freddy Peacock dies in the house under very mysterious circumstances, the police are added into the mix – questioning everyone about their movements and their motives. And when it looks like the police are narrowing in on the wrong suspect, it’s suddenly up to Julia to figure out who really done it, before they do it to anyone else – or to her.
Escape Rating B: I found Julia’s situation at Fotheringill Castle extremely uncomfortable to read. She knows she’s gotten herself into a pickle, and can’t find a way out. Not because a bald statement won’t get her out of the castle, but because she fears that telling Linus she won’t be his wife under any circumstances in the universe feels like a sure-fire way to get fired. It may not be – he seems like a better human being than that, but it’s an all too real possibility from where Julia sits. If she just grins and bears it, her cottage will eventually be ready and they can all get out of the situation without verbalizing things that no one wants to say out loud. At the same time, once Julia discovers that it looks like no work is being done, she does finally start making noise.
The way that Julia nearly sabotages her relationship with Michael also felt all too possible. She’s not sure she’s any good at relationships, so she tries to make this one break itself before it breaks her heart. It’s good that she has friends who call her on her b.s. It’s unfortunate that the cause of her near-breakup is an old friend who is a little too full of his own b.s. – even if his duplicity is what finally breaks the case open.
There’s a lot of sad and more than a bit of crazy in the way this case is solved, and the reasons that it exists in the first place. There were a lot of cuckoos in a lot of nests, and it takes Julia quite a bit of time and energy to figure out what is behind the crime spree. The red herrings keep the reader well-diverted until the final showdown.
And although the magpies were wrong in Rhyme about the gender of Julia’s new niece, her sister’s ingenious method for finding a name for the baby is both heartwarming and funny.
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
In conjunction with this tour, Random House Alibi is giving away (1)eBook copies of MRS. KAPLAN AND THE MATZOH BALL OF DEATH and THE RHYME OF THE MAGPIE