Death at Buckingham Palace

Death at Buckingham Palace (Her Majesty Investigates #1)Death at Buckingham Palace by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just love books that feature the current Queen of England as a character. Although the idea of Her Majesty collaborating with a housemaid may seem improbably silly, it is all great fun. Jane is a plucky young Canadian taking a year off from school and staying with her great-aunt Grace in England. Short of cash, and not wanting to return home to Prince Edward Island, she gets a job in Buckingham Palace. The time period is a few years after the Queen’s “annus horribilis” but before the death of Lady Diana. Lots of humor (footmen streaking naked through the palace), upstairs and downstairs intrigue, a film crew doing a documentary on life at the palace, and plenty of red herrings for Jane to sort through. I had fun searching for images of the various palace rooms on the internet to enhance my reading experience. These are books that I would reread, and I will definitely look for the others in the series. [Note: a much older Jane Bee, now married to a British aristocrat, also appears in the author’s Father Christmas mystery series (Twelve Drummers Drumming, etc.)]

Book Description: (from book jacket) Jane Bee came to Europe for adventure, only to end up with the job of a lifetime — housemaid at Buckingham Palace. Now her greatest challenge is removing gum from State Room carpets — until she comes across a nasty accident right outside the Royal Apartments. The Queen Herself has — literally — stumbled across the dead body of Jane’s good friend, footman and aspiring actor Robin Tukes, in what appears to be a suicide. But why would handsome, impetuous Robin, having just toasted his engagement to a gorgeous housemaid, not to mention his impending fatherhood, want to die? Buck House buzzes, but only Jane — and the Royal Personage known belowstairs as “Mother” — suspects foul play. At Her Majesty’s behest, Jane launches a discreet inquiry that takes her from Servants’ Hall to the highest echelons of the Palace. Yet the more Jane uncovers, the more clear it becomes that this latest royal scandal is a real killer.

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Ten Lords A-Leaping

Ten Lords A-Leaping: A Mystery (Father Christmas Mystery #3)Ten Lords A-Leaping: A Mystery by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third book in the Father Christmas mystery series, we take a break from the village of Thornford Regis. This one takes place at a manor house where Father Tom is participating in a skydiving event to raise money for his church. Unable to leave after he sprains his ankle, he becomes involved with the local aristocracy – a very disfunctional and unlikeable family. The tangle of family relationships seems much more straightforward after getting to know so many local villagers in the first two books. I did not feel the need to keep notes on the various characters this time around. We do see the return of several characters from book one – the brother of his vanished verger (Sebastian John), Lord Kirkbride (Jamie) and his wife, Jane (nee Bee). I have just found out that Jane Bee was the subject of three prior books by C.C. Benison (Death at Buckingham Palace) so I am off to find those…

Father Tom is accompanied by his daughter, Miranda, and his housekeeper, Madrun, who continues to write LOL funny letters to her mother throughout the story. I continue to find this series well-plotted, if a tad on the long side, humorous, thought-provoking, and satisfying. A bit expensive as ebooks, but I will definitely be rereading them, probably at Christmas time even though they really don’t have anything to do with Christmas.

Book Description: Although Father Tom Christmas serves his little church in enchanting Thornford Regis with a glad and faithful heart, he never expects to find himself skydiving to raise money for it. Nor, safely back on the ground, to see two of the other divers leap from the plane, then tangle in a midair punch-up and begin falling to the earth. To say that there is tension between the men in question—Oliver, the 7th Marquess of Morborne, and his brother-in-law Hector, the 10th Earl of Fairhaven—would be an understatement. But the trouble among this ancient landed family really began a generation ago, when a marquess divorced his first spouse to marry his brother’s wife, fathering in his two marriages a viper’s nest of arrogant young aristocrats. Now they have all turned up for the show to witness this shocking event in the sky. Thankfully the men land safely, but death will not be slighted. Much to Father Tom’s dismay, he later discovers Lord Morborne lying deceased on castle grounds. Rumors of bigamy, art forgeries, and upstairs/downstairs intrigue fly. So do whispers of unvicarly behavior between Tom and Oliver’s beautiful half-sister, Lady Lucinda. In fact, the vicar may be headed for a very hard landing of his own.

Eleven Pipers Piping

Eleven Pipers Piping (Father Christmas Mystery #2)Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit hefty at nearly 500 pages for a “cozy” mystery, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Burns Night. Haggis. Bagpipers. Need I say more? Like the first book of the series, I thought this was well plotted. It is complex enough that you probably won’t figure out who done it, even if the red herrings are a bit obvious. The main characters continue to grow and develop, although I still think there is too much name dropping of superfluous villagers. Yes, I had to go back to my notes of book one to help sort them out – but that isn’t entirely a bad thing. I feel like I am being immersed in a whole village. Still, there is a certain disconnect for me between the well-developed main characters and the cardboard cutouts of everyone else. This book was a lot less “work” because the extensive back story has already been laid down. And I had my notes. I love Father Tom and I’m going to expect a love interest somewhere down the line as he continues to heal from the loss of his wife. His housekeeper is a hoot, and I love the plot device of her daily letters to her mother, complete with crossed-out typos, which gives us another point of view to the goings on. I wouldn’t categorize these books as “Christian” fiction, but since Tom is a vicar, and his is the viewpoint that most of the action is filtered through, there is a certain amount of moralizing and human angst alongside his empathy and compassion. He is a man of faith despite his own tragedies.

Book Description: Father Tom Christmas, the recently widowed vicar adjusting to life in the English village of Thornford Regis, would do almost anything to avoid attending the annual Robert Burns Supper at the local hotel. But as chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, Father Tom must deliver the grace—and contend with wailing bagpipes, whiskey-laced parishioners reciting poetry, and the culinary abomination that is haggis.

As snow falls to unprecedented depths, the revelers carry on—briefly interrupted by an enigmatic stranger seeking shelter. Then Will Moir, proprietor of the hotel and a dedicated piper, inexplicably goes missing—only to be found later in the hotel’s dark tower, alone and dead from what appears to be a heart attack.

Father Tom’s own heart sinks when he learns the actual cause of Will’s demise. When word gets out, the flurry of innocent speculation descends into outlandish gossip. And, for all its tranquil charm, Thornford Regis has plenty to gossip about—illicit trysts, muted violence, private sorrows, and old, unresolved tragedies. The question is: Who would benefit most from the piper’s death? Suspicion swirls around many, including Will’s beautiful widow, their shadowy son, Will’s obnoxious brother-in-law, and even the mysterious party crasher, who knows more than she lets on about the grudges she left behind—but never forgot.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Twelve Drummers Drumming (Father Christmas Mystery #1)Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am usually very conservative with my ebook purchasing, contenting myself with freebies and watching for books under $2, but I actually paid full price for this one. What can I say? It was Christmas, I was away from home, the title and reviews intrigued me, and I didn’t want to wait until I could get it from the library. You could spend more on a movie and popcorn!

It did not disappoint! I love British cozies. And I love stories involving clergy and their families, since I’m a PK myself. While the story itself is not holiday-themed, we have a vicar called “Father” Christmas serving the parish church of St. Nicholas, and series titles all taken from the 12 Days of Christmas song. I will say that it took some effort on my part to keep track of all the characters – an investment that I hope will pay off as I read more of the series. There is a list of characters in the front, but after getting half-way through the book I started over and took notes as I went along. The major characters are fairly well developed, but others are mentioned once without really adding anything to the story. There are several mysteries going on throughout the book, and not all are resolved at the end. It remains to be seen if those threads will be picked up down the line. Hopefully, there will be eleven more books to come! The plot developments are somewhat predictable – it’s the characters and the backstories that made this interesting for me. Tom Christmas is most definitely not your run-of-the-mill vicar.

Setting: The village of Thornford Regis (made up) in Devonshire.

Main characters:
Tom Christmas is the new vicar of St. Nicholas church in Thornford Regis. He is lately come from Bristol where he was an inner-city team minister. His wife (Jewish and a doctor) was murdered in a violent crime there. The speculation is that it was somebody after money for drugs, but the killer has never been found. As his back-story unfolds, we learn that he was previously a professional magician (The Great Krimboni). His birth parents gave him up for adoption, and his adoptive parents died in a plane crash when he was still a baby. He was raised by his adoptive father’s sister, a veterinarian, and her partner, Kate, an American flight attendant.

Miranda – Tom’s 9-year-old daughter, who misses the French au pair she had in Bristol, and is fascinated with the French equivalent of Nancy Drew.

Julia Hennis – Tom’s sister-in-law, a local music teacher who fills in as organist from time to time at St. Nicholas. She is married to Dr. Alastair Hennis, but their marriage has been very strained. She takes Miranda to synagogue every Sabbath.

Madrun Prowse – She comes with the vicarage and is cook and housekeeper. She writes to her mother in Cornwall daily, and these letters give us her point of view on all the goings on.

Peter Kinsey – the former incumbent vicar who disappeared after serving 18 months. His parents were wealthy farmers in Zimbabwe, killed by rebels.

Fred Pike – local handyman and a kleptomaniac.

Colm Parry – organist and choirmaster. Former pop-singer in the 80s. Reformed alcoholic. Father of Sybella Parry, who is found murdered.

Liam Drewe – ex-con with a very short temper. Owner of the Waterside Cafe where Sybella was a waitress.

Mitsuko Drewe – his wife, an artist. She was born in Wales where her Japanese parents had emigrated to after World War II. Her father, retired manager of the Sony plant in Brigend, is taking Welsh lessons and involved in Welsh folk-dancing (!)

Colonel Phillip Northmore – ancient church treasurer. World War II vet – prisoner of war at Omori.

Sebastian John – the enigmatic verger with a secretive past. He is also Colonel Northmore’s gardener.

Book Description: Father Tom Christmas moves to the picturesque English hamlet of Thornford Regis to become its new vicar and to seek a peaceful haven. But inside the empty village hall, the huge Japanese o-daiko drum that’s featured in the May Fayre festivities has been viciously sliced open—and curled up inside is the bludgeoned body of Sybella Parry, the daughter of the choir director. Realizing this village is not the refuge he’d hoped for, Father Tom comes to a disturbing conclusion: Sybella’s killer must be one of his parishioners. No one is above suspicion—not Sebastian John, the deeply reserved verger, nor Mitsuko Drewe, a local artist, nor Colonel Northmore, survivor of a World War II prison camp. And over all hangs the long-unsolved mystery of a sudden disappearance, one that brought Father Tom to this picture-perfect place to live—or die.

About the author: C.C. Benison is the nom de plume of Doug Whiteway, who was born and still lives in Winnipeg, Canada. He was awarded a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Manitoba, and a degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa. He has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to non-fiction books. He started writing mystery fiction in the 1990s with Death At Buckingham Palace, and followed this with other novels.