Title: Murder at Shots Hall
Author: Maureen Sarsfield
ISBN: 0915230550, Rue Morgue Press, 2003
Originally published as Green December Fills the Graveyard, 1945.
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Paperback Swap
First Line: "NO," Flik's aunt had said.
Flikka Ashley and her Aunt Bee Chattock live in Shots Hall in Sussex. Two-thirds of the manor house was destroyed by German bombs, and the two women live in what's left. Poverty is sniffing around outside the big oak door; Flik and Bee do their best to ward it off by selling an occasional bottle of vintage liquor or some of Flik's sculptures, but it's tough going. When Molly Pritchard, an old family retainer, is murdered, Arnoldson, the loathsome local copper, is determined to pin the deed on Flik. Fortunately Scotland Yard Inspector Lane Parry is sent to take charge. Finding the real killer is not going to be a walk in the park.
I seldom read vintage mysteries. It's a rare occurrence when the publishing date on any mystery I read is older than 1990. In many ways, I blame Nancy Drew for this. I tried reading Nancy when I was a child, but I laughed every time she donned a fresh frock and jumped into her roadster. No, my preference has almost always gone to the current crop of crime. Now that I've read Murder at Shots Hall, my preferences may need a bit of adjusting.
The author, Maureen Sarsfield, is every bit as much of a mystery as two of the three books she wrote. Her two mysteries, Murder at Shots Hall and Murder at Beechlands, feature Inspector Lane Parry of Scotland Yard. Both books were published in the late 1940s and quickly picked up by American publishers, which was unusual for that time. However, after three books, Sarsfield vanished and no one knows what happened to her.
I wish she had continued to write because this book shows real talent. Sarsfield shows a knack for setting, plot, pacing, humor, and characterization. Almost every bit of it is shown through dialogue and action-- Sarsfield does not tie bibs around our necks and spoon feed us information. I like that. A lot.
The small village is filled to the rafters with suspects because everyone's personal habits and business is common knowledge to all, and Sarsfield's skill brings them to life while Parry struggles to keep them all straight. Congreve, a police constable who's a welcome bit of comic relief, sums it up best:
"This is like driving a car along the road and every corner another passenger 'ops on board," Congreve decided cheerfully.
"All I can say is," Parry grunted, "that I hope the springs don't give way from the strain."
Does the author ever put a foot wrong? Occasionally. If I had a dollar for each time Flik is described as lovely, my next trip to the UK would be assured. The description of the loathsome local copper is a bit heavy-handed (although enjoyable in spots), and the resident doctor may be thought of as heartless unless the reader is truly paying attention. I have to admit that none of this counted for much because I was enjoying the story and the writing so much. I couldn't even be bothered to slap myself upside the head when the killer's identity was revealed. What should have been obvious to me was buried beneath my delight as I turned the pages.
After finishing-- and thoroughly enjoying-- Murder at Shots Hall, I have two things to say: (1) It's a shame that Sarsfield only wrote three books. The lady had true talent. (2) I feel fortunate that I have her second mystery sitting on my shelves waiting for me.
I think I'm going to let it sit there for a while. A treat should be savored.