Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #1
Published by Embla Books on July 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Dr Nell Ward is an ecologist, not a detective. But when she’s the prime suspect in a murder, only her unique set of skills could help to clear her name…
In the sleepy village of Cookingdean, Dr Nell Ward is busy working in the grounds of a local manor house. Whilst inspecting an old tunnel, the last thing she expects to overhear is a murder. As the only person with any clues as to what happened, Nell soon finds herself in the middle of the investigation.
Desperate to clear her name Nell, along with her colleague Adam, set out solving the murder using their skills as ecologists to uncover details no one else would notice. But it soon becomes clear that playing Agatha Christie is much harder than it might at first appear…
The start of an exciting new cosy crime series – perfect for fans of Richard Osman, Faith Martin and Joy Ellis.
Dr. Nell Ward, consulting ecologist, licensed surveyor of bats as well as great crested newts, barn owls and dormice, is a very square peg, personally and professionally.
She keeps her personal life VERY close to the vest, while professionally she’s both nerdy about her beloved bats and extremely meticulous about her work.
The problem is that the local police in Pendlebury have a rough but round hole they seem determined to shove her into.
Nell was doing an ecological survey, specifically a bat survey, in the old tunnels underneath Manor House Farm – with permission of course – when the owner, the woman who gave her that permission, was murdered at the opposite end of the tunnel where Nell was surveying.
Nell was alone, the bats unfortunately can’t give her an alibi, and the obvious suspect for Sophie Crows’ murder, her husband David, was at a business conference a couple of hours away. He has all the alibi he needs, while Nell has none.
On the other hand, David Stephenson had PLENTY of motives to murder his wife – it just doesn’t seem possible that he could have managed the job personally. That Nell has about as much motive for murdering Sophie Crows as her husband seems to have had opportunity doesn’t seem to matter.
Nell’s behavior, her seeming over-helpfulness and abundant documentation about her movements that night, combined with her reticence about her personal connections, strikes the police as suspicious behavior. They’re sure she must have a motive for the murder, and they seem determined to find it – or make one up – rather than dig deeply into the husband.
Leaving Nell in the midst of the absolute classic series starter for an amateur detective – her very first case is to do the job the police don’t seem to be nearly interested enough in doing themselves, and figure out who really ‘done it’ – before circumstantial evidence and a lack of imagination on the part of the local constabulary convict Nell of a crime that she may have heard committed – but absolutely did not commit herself.
Escape Rating B: I was hoping to love this book, because it definitely fits the murder-y reading mood I’ve been in recently and I can always use a comfort read series.
I did like Nell Ward rather a lot – at least in her first outing. I enjoyed her professionalism and especially her charming nerdiness about her job and her bats. Especially her bats. I may not ever want to meet a whole colony of the creatures but I could feel for her love of them and advocacy for them all the way through.
As well as her emotional conflicts around revealing her private self and ultra-privileged identity to her friends and colleagues. She doesn’t trust her judgment, she’s been burned by too many people before, and she has plenty to protect.
But there were a couple of things about the case that the local police did their damndest to stitch her up for that bothered me. More than a little bit. Actually rather a lot.
It’s not even that the frame was obvious – although it certainly was. I knew who really done it very early on, and had a good guess about how he’d managed it. He wasn’t even all that clever.
The police spent SO MUCH time on hypothesizing possible motives for Nell to have killed Sophie Crows that it seemed as if someone on the force was determined to make Nell pay for being extremely privileged. Or possibly for being nerdy and so overhelpful that the police were overwhelmed by all her information. At the same time, they spent very little effort checking out the husband’s alibi in comparison.
He had literally millions of reasons to murder his wife. And her mother. Millions of pounds sterling of reasons. Motives that should have garnered much more serious attempts to break his alibi.
But the story only works if Nell is wrongfully accused, and the only way that could happen was for the police to focus their efforts in Nell’s direction – whether their reasons made sense or not.
In the end, I liked A Murder of Crows rather than loved it. I like Nell a lot, although I’m hoping the love triangle she’s backed herself into gets resolved sooner rather than later. I’m really curious about how she’s going to manage to reconcile Dr. Nell Ward’s professional life with Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont’s wealthy and privileged existence as the daughter of the Earl of Finchmere, Lord Beaumont, and his Conservative MP wife Imelda Ward-Beaumont, and the heir to the grand – but seemingly not entailed – estate of Finchmere.
Because neither of the two men currently vying for her hand have a chance of fitting into Lady Eleanor’s world no matter how much either or both of them suit Dr. Nell Ward down to the ground. If she can ever manage to tell either of them so and very much vice-versa.
The book that A Murder of Crows reminds me of very much is A Death in Door County, the first book in the Monster Hunter Mystery series by Annelise Ryan. Both series are fronted by female scientists who are deeply but never pedantically into their scientific specialities, both were first books in series that hopefully will figure themselves out a bit better as they continue (the second book in the Monster Hunter series, Death in the Dark Woods, was much better than the first!) both women are making only tentative steps towards possible romances, and both have a habit of falling into amateur detection by way of their scientific pursuits.
So if you like the one series, you’ll probably like the other. I certainly liked Dr. Nell Ward more than enough to be looking forward to the next book in her series, A Cast of Falcons, whenever I next get the itch for murder.