Sunday, July 20, 2014

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly

First Line: Now that the high season had arrived, Sullivan's Pub was busier than Maura Donovan had ever seen it.

Maura's only been in Ireland for three months, and she's been a pub owner for an even shorter length of time, so the tourist season means she's had to hit the ground running. Having had a chance to do little but give the pub a good clean, at least Maura's settling in her new home.

The pub has drawn many a tourist in through its doors, but none stranger than Althea Melville, fresh from New York City and hot on the trail of an extremely valuable Van Dyck painting. Rumor has it that the only place in County Cork where the painting may be found is at Mycroft House, home of the Townsends. Although Althea is one of the rudest, pushiest people Maura has ever met, she reluctantly agrees to help the New Yorker meet the Townsends-- partly because she's learned that her grandmother used to work there before she immigrated to America. But in no time at all, the gardener at the manor house is murdered, and Maura begins to question Althea's motives. This pub owner is going to have to delve into the local history a bit to find the painting and to catch a killer.

Sheila Connolly scores once again with her second mystery set in County Cork, Ireland. She is adept at adding just enough local history and flavor to make her setting shine without making it confusing to those unfamiliar with the Auld Sod. The book would be worth reading for the setting alone, but wait-- there's more!

Add to the sparkling setting a complex mystery. I always love mysteries about long-lost masterpieces, so Connolly had me at Van Dyck. However, there are also people and motives galore, and it takes time to sort through them all. Fortunately Maura runs a pub, and while she pulls pints and clears tables, she can learn all sorts of things about the area and its people.

Setting and plot are all well and good, but no cozy is worth its salt unless it has a good, solid cast of characters. Scandal in Skibbereen delivers the goods in this respect, too. Maura Donovan is a strong, intelligent woman who-- whether she likes it or not-- is a natural born leader and authority figure. She's only been in Ireland for three months, but her friends, co-workers, and those who come into the pub want her included on anything that's being planned. Part of the reason for that is that she's willing to learn about the local people and their history. She's not the type of person to wade in and insist, "We never did it this way in Boston!" She's also learned that family means a great deal in this area. There are people who remember her grandmother and other family members who used to live there, and that carries weight in the community.

In stark contrast to Maura is fresh-from-the-Big-Apple Althea Melville. If it's not done the way it is in New York City, Althea doesn't like it. Althea also has no concept of personal space, dressing appropriately... or even of being polite. I would imagine most townspeople wanted this abrasive woman to be paired with their new pub owner in hopes that Maura might rub off on her.

Maura and Althea aren't the only characters to enjoy in this book, however. Maura even has a bit of a love interest in this book, and it's fun to watch her deal with it. From Maura to the man and his daughter who work in the pub, to her grandmother's friend, to the old man who practically lives at the pub, all the way to those in residence at Mycroft House, there are plenty of characters to savor along with the setting and the mystery.

The only thing left for me to say is, "Bring on book three!"

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly
ISBN:  9780425252505
Berkley Prime Crime © 2014
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #2 County Cork mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap

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