Monday, October 24, 2022

A Trace of Poison by Colleen Cambridge

First Lines: "I just don't see any way around it. He's simply got to be done away with," said a hushed voice.
The village of Listleigh has the perfect residents to raise awareness of the local writers' group's Murder Fête: Agatha Christie and her husband who live at Mallowan Hall. In quite a coup, four members of the Detection Club have agreed to attend the fête, give talks, sign books, and judge a writing contest, the winner of which will win a valuable international publishing contract. All the proceeds of this fête will go to replacing the roof of the local orphanage.

With people like G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers wandering the house and grounds, it's no wonder that housekeeper Phyllida Bright pays no special attention to voices discussing murder under her window... until the local priest is murdered with a poisoned drink at that evening's cocktail party.

Everything points to the head of the writers' group being the intended target of the poisoned drink, and since he is almost universally detested, Phyllida finds that her suspect list is quite long indeed. When another person dies, Agatha Christie's indomitable housekeeper knows that she has to work fast to find the killer.


I'm really enjoying this historical mystery series written by Colleen (Gleason) Cambridge. Not only does it have a plot that would make Dame Agatha proud, but historian Cambridge really gives readers a strong feel for the period and all that it entails being the housekeeper of a large country home. 

Phyllida Bright is a stern taskmistress, but she is liked and respected by the staff of Mallowan Hall, and since she and Agatha Christie served together during the Great War, she has a special relationship with her employer. Phyllida is extremely opinionated and, in A Trace of Poison, seems to have a thing about mustaches, but to each her own. The chauffeur, Bradford, and his puppy really get up her nose, and I love how Bradford enjoys getting a rise out of her every chance he can get. Yes, the sparks are flying between these two, but I sincerely hope that Cambridge doesn't light the fire, at least for a while. 

All detectives worth their salt have "resources" to help them with their investigations. Sherlock Holmes has the Baker Street Irregulars, and Phyllida Bright has her "downstairs" contacts-- all the housekeepers, cooks, maids, and footmen who work in the surrounding houses. She needs all the help they can give her because this is one magnificently convoluted crime. 

All the historical figures in A Trace of Poison are 99% set dressing. They say very little and have even less to do with the actual plot, but it's great just to imagine them spending a weekend with Agatha Christie and her husband in their country house. If there's anything I've found to be a bit tiresome in the (so far) two books in this series it's the long, drawn-out summoning of the suspects and all the explanations given during the reveal at story's end. It just takes too bloomin' long. Phyllida, I know you love Hercule Poirot; does he take as long to amaze us with his brilliance? If he does, you really don't have to be a slavish imitator, you know!

A Trace of Poison by Colleen Cambridge
eISBN: 9781496732491
Kensington Books © 2022
eBook, 304 pages
Historical Mystery, #2 Phyllida Bright mystery
Rating: B
Source: Net Galley


  1. This sounds like a solid historical mystery, Cathy. I don't usually go for follow-ons - I suppose I'm a bit of a purist - but I do appreciate an author who 'does the homework' and offers a strong sense of place and time.

  2. I really need to try this series! These mysteries sound like a lot of fun.

  3. I've not read this series but it does sound intriguing.

    1. It is. I like how the author fits her characters and stories into the setting she's chosen.

  4. I have been meaning to read this series, but had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder!


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