Cambridge, Colleen. Murder at Mallowan Hall (A Phyllida Bright Mystery, Book 1). October 2021. 304 pages. Kensington.
Rader-Day, Lori. Death at Greenway. October 2021. 448 pages. William Morrow.
Christie fans, rejoice! This fall will see the publication of not one but two novels set in Christie’s Devon country home. Cambridge’s Murder at Mallowan Hall is a near-perfect traditional mystery—the first body is found in the library, stabbed in the neck by a fountain pen—set during a house party in the early 1930s. But Cambridge flips the paradigm and instead of focusing on the posh guests, tells the story from the perspective of the help, most notably Phyllida Bright, housekeeper extraordinaire. Bright, a friend of Christie as well as an employee, models her investigation on Poirot, right down to the classic denouement delivered by Bright in the library. Gender roles, sexual harassment, and same-sex love are key elements, but Cambridge succeeds in keeping the novel squarely in its era. Two words describe this book: absolutely delicious. Greenway was the real name of Christie’s Devon estate, and Rader-Day’s Death at Greenway is painstakingly realistic. The book opens in London during the Blitz—which is wonderfully described—and we meet Bridey Kelly, a nurse trainee who has made a fatal mistake and is banished to the countryside with 10 young children escaping the bombing. Their destination is Greenway, which Christie and her husband have given over to the evacuees. But the Devon countryside offers little solace, with standoffish residents, a coast too close to the war, and the corpse of someone who was clearly murdered. Deeply suspenseful, this novel brilliantly captures the horrors of the war years and how individuals managed to survive through hardships both physical and emotional.—Brian Kenney