Author: Kate Kingsbury
Series: Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries
Publication Information: New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013, c2012
Library of Congress Classification: PR9199.3.K44228
Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Baxter, Cecily Sinclair (Fictitious character)—Fiction
Pennyfoot Hotel (England : Imaginary place)—Fiction
The series, Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries, set during the Christmas season at the Pennyfoot Hotel. There are regular mystery books at the Pennyfoot set all year round, so I was surprised to find a series like this. I love mysteries set around the holidays–don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because I like to see what other people do for the holiday season, even if they are fictitious. This book is not the first in the series but several volumes into it.
The setting is historical, taking place in Badger’s End, England, at the beginning of the 20th century. The Pennyfoot Country Club is decorated for Christmas, and the staff are preparing the hotel for holiday festivities. Cecily Sinclair Baxter, the manager of the hotel, has her hands full. The household manager, Mrs. Chubb, has left to take care of her grandchildren while her daughter recovers from being ill. The replacement, Beatrice Tucker, has alienated just about everyone in the house with her waspish tongue and temper. Cecily’s husband’s first name is never given; he’s simply called Baxter throughout. (All the characters at the Pennyfoot are referred to by their first names except Mrs. Chubb and Baxter.)
The hotel is filled up when Archibald Armitage, master thespian, is found murdered in his room. It is revealed that Armitage had been the lover of a young woman whom he had abandoned after she became pregnant by him; she committed suicide. This being the Edwardian Age, her entire reputation had been destroyed as well as her standing in society. Strangely enough, her parents are also staying at the hotel for the holidays. Then there’s Tucker, whom Armitage had apparently insulted one night after she had played up to him because he was well-known. However, Pansy the maid thought Armitage a gentleman because he had saved Tess, Samuel the stable manager and carriage driver’s dog (and Pansy’s fiance), from drowning in the pond. However, she’s in the minority.
There is a lively cast of characters. Tucker is just a miserable, old bag who constantly tears anyone apart for any little infraction. The cook Michel, who speaks English with a French accent (but his Cockney slang when drunk reveals his true birthplace), detests her. She has so upset the household that Cecily tries to bring her into line to no avail; Cecily is also afraid to offend the woman, since she needs a housekeeper to keep the household running efficiently through the holiday season. Samuel and Pansy have been engaged for awhile when something happens to break them up. Pansy’s friend Gertie, also a maid, finds Clive the caretaker an enigma; her twins adore him and he cares for them and her, but he’s harboring a secret. Gertie herself has been around, having had children with a man whom she loved but then found out was already married; had fallen for an upper-class man who wanted to move her and the children to London, but she had realized that it would never work and broke it off; had married a much older man more for the children than for herself; and now, widowed, she is not sure what to make of Clive. Gilbert Tubbs, Samuel’s assistant, also has an ax to grind with Armitage.
Then there’s Cecily’s friends, Madeline and Phoebe. Madeline had married Kevin Prestwick, the local doctor, who had been a suitor of Cecily’s before taking up with Madeline. Madeline has precognitive abilities that come over her and, in a trance, she calls out what she sees. Phoebe married Freddie the colonel, whom Baxter is sure is completely crazy. Phoebe is completely self-absorbed and into how things look; substance isn’t that important.
For the most part, I found Baxter a wet dishrag. I kept wondering why Cecily, had married him. However, in one passage, he secretly admitted that he was proud of his wife’s sleuthing abilities and couldn’t understand why the government hadn’t simply given women the right to vote, figuring that if they were only half as smart as his wife then the country could only benefit from the brainpower.
I liked the book, and the characters. I would recommend the book to anyone who likes historical mysteries. The running joke throughout is that Cecily wants to keep the murder hush-hush, since most people know about the Pennyfoot’s record of having murders committed around the holidays. It’s a definite damper on the festivities.