Friday, January 2, 2015

Murder at Mullings by Dorothy Cannell

I have mixed feelings about Murder at Mullings. I liked the concept (“In its 300-year history, there has never once been a scandal at Mullings, ancestral home of the decent but dull Stodmarsh family. Until 1932, that is….”). But the book moved so slowly for me. I had a very hard time sticking with it. It was very wordy, and with so little character development I had difficulty keeping everyone straight. The first 10 pages of the book could easily have been a novel in themselves, as they cover 21 years in the life of housekeeper Florence Norris.

I don’t mind a slow-moving plot when character development is the focus, but this is the first book I can recall where plot was sacrificed for setting and manners. This book felt more like a long-winded proposal for a television series than a novel. Even the way the characters were described seemed like guidance for the person casting the series (for example, Inspector LeCrane: “He was tall, with a narrow face dominated by a long, beaky nose, which would have done the suggested species of bird proud. Ned put him in his mid- to –late-forties. No visible gray in his dark hair.” (p. 212)). I found the first 150 pages of this 247 page book to be set-up for the final 100 pages.

There are two murders in the book, set several years apart. An ornamental hermit is thrown at us as a red herring and for a bit of period eccentricity, but the murderer was not difficult to guess. I kept reading because I kept thinking a book I would enjoy was in there someone, and I got it at last in the final 40 pages. I would rate most of the book two stars, and the last 40 pages four stars.

I’ve not seen Downton Abbey, but Murder at Mullings is clearly aimed directly at the fans of that series. If you like slow moving fiction covering a 40-year-span that is more focused on the setting and manners than the plot or characters, you might enjoy this book. This is the first book in a series; the second is due to be published in July 2015.

Murder at Mullings is available in the adult fiction section of the Galesburg Public Library and in the library’s ebook collection.

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