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by Sheila Connolly
Minotaur, June 2018
328 pages
ISBN: 1250135869

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Victorian Village Mysteries is the fifth cozy series penned by Sheila Connolly and MURDER AT THE MANSION marks its debut.

Hospitality consultant and executive Kate Hamilton learns she is being downsized just after lunch with hometown school friend, Lisabeth, who begs her to come home and help Asheboro, MD revive its failing economy.

Kate decides to check out the situation in Asheboro while she contemplates what to do next about her career. According to Lisabeth, the town is slowly dying. The town council used tax income to purchase a large Victorian mansion hoping its renovation would spur tourism yet, after two years, the house sits empty. Then, within the last few weeks, a storm destroyed the storefronts of the shops on main street.

As Kate assesses the damage to the shops she determines it is mostly cosmetic. Visiting the Barton Mansion, named for the factory owner who built it in the mid 1800's, she is surprised to find the mansion is a well-maintained and excellent example of authentic Victorian architecture. The next day Kate meets with the town council, absent an old high school nemesis, Cordelia, to discuss the situation. She agrees to prepare a proposal and present it in one week, understanding that Cordelia is lobbying to get a contract to update the Barton Mansion as a luxury bed and breakfast, replacing her current not-so-successful B&B in town.

On her way out of town, Kate sneaks in the back way to check out the mansion and runs into the interim caretaker, Josh Wainwright, a history professor on sabbatical to finish a book. When leaving by the front door they find the dead body of Cordelia Walker lying across the entrance steps.

Now, Kate and Josh have two priorities: work on ideas to use the Barton Mansion to help stimulate the local economy and investigate Cordy's murder.

The twosome decides to explore Henry Barton's background when they discover the factory owner is related to Clara Barton through a letter she wrote him after the Civil War. Kate finds the letter in Cordy's current B&B where she is now staying, which leads her to think Cordy was working with someone else to find and steal valuable artifacts located in the Barton Mansion's attic or basement. Calling on Nell Pratt, Director of Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, to help sort out the treasures in the mansion, Kate learns the Clara Barton letters (more uncovered in their searches) are quite valuable.

While lots of red herrings keep the reader turning pages as Josh and Kate search for suspects and motives, Connolly's skill as a storyteller is the real draw. Her descriptive narration brings the reader right into the action, complete with realistic characters and convincingly genuine dialogue.

Finally, Ms. Connolly's backdrop for this series, the challenges facing small towns today, is both a different and interesting choice.

§ Ruth Castleberry has worked as an investigator for Pinkerton’s, a city desk assistant on the Charlotte News, free-lance writer, marketing/business strategy consultant, competitive intelligence practitioner and digital marketing consultant.

Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry, July 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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