World War I and its aftermath have been fertile ground for mysteries set in the UK, with Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear being just two authors who have tilled that field. Marjorie Eccles goes back a little further for her inspiration: The Second Boer War of 1899-1902.
In this English-village mystery, set in Folbury, Margaret Rees-Talbot is engaged to clergyman Symon Scroope and, while she is happily in love, her happiness is tempered by her grief over her beloved father's recent death. It's more than grief, though, because there is some concern that Osbert Rees-Talbot, who lost an arm in the Boer War, may actually have killed himself, rather than died accidentally. But what could have made the man whom Marjorie idolized take his own life?
Meanwhile, in the village, DI Reardon and DS Joe Gilmour are involved in the investigation of another apparent accidental death. This one, though, is quickly determined to be murder. Foundry owner Arthur Aston was a crude, rough and aggressive man who'd been Osbert Rees-Talbot's batman (personal servant) during the war. He had no shortage of enemies including, possibly, Rees-Talbot and his family, whom witnesses claim they heard arguing with Aston. And is there a connection between Aston's murder and that of the unidentified man whose months-dead body was found in the wood. In particular, is there a South African connection, since all three recent deaths have that country in common?
This is a Golden Age type of mystery in its setting and atmosphere. I wouldn't call it a fair-play or puzzle style of mystery, though. While the police detectives are featured, we don't closely follow their investigation to pick up clues and attempt to solve the crime(s) along with them. Instead, the plot is more languid, and the solution plays out in a storytelling fashion.
I would have liked to get a stronger feeling for some of the characters in the story, especially Margaret, Symon, and the police detectives. Still, it was an engaging read and I would recommend it to anybody looking for a traditional mystery. I would also welcome more books featuring Reardon and Gilmour.
Note: I received a free Netgalley review copy of this book.