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3.5 out of 5 stars36
3.5 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 1 March 2014
This is a perfectly adequate, deliberately old-fashioned, murder mystery which passes the time very nicely. The bit that doesn't make any sense is why the author - clearly an American - didn't write about the US she must know about rather than a UK that is completely imaginary. The setting and dialogue don't make any sense to a native British speaker. No-one in a West Country (that's West Country not South Western) village (and how lucky those villagers are with all those shops) would eat 'Wheat Toast', or at least they would, but they certainly wouldn't call it that. Nor would they refer to 'Queen Elizabeth' (she would always just be 'The Queen'); and we don't look back to our college years, we all went to uni, and nobody has referred to a policeman as a 'bobby' in the last half century ('plod pod' would be a far more likely nickname for their mobile office); there are no cobblestone streets any more; British people don't use the word 'jackass' and we don't have 'catsup' on our food; and...well you get the picture.
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President of the Women's Institute and self-proclaimed leader of all village ventures, Wanda Batton-Smythe is overbearing and rude to all. Nobody likes her, but does someone hate her enough to kill her? When she is found dead during the Harvest Fayre, local MI5-agent-turned-vicar Max Tudor suspects foul play...

This is a fun take on the Golden Age mystery with much to recommend it. Well written and with a good deal of mild humour, the book nods repeatedly towards Agatha Christie and the author is clearly trying to emulate that style, with some success. Max Tudor is a likeable protagonist, who has left MI5 after becoming disillusioned. Following a road to Damascus moment, he has come late to his calling as vicar and brings his worldly knowledge to bear on this mystery. Some of the villagers are well fleshed out, though there is a tendency towards stereotyping.

The plot is shrouded in mystery till the very end and although some clues are given, really the dénouement relies too much on a twist that the reader could not have known, so not as fair as most Golden Age mysteries were. The book is also a bit over-padded with unnecessary descriptions of the village, of what characters were wearing, even of Max's backstory - I felt it could have lost roughly a third of its 300 pages and been better for it.

Overall, though, an enjoyable read that would certainly encourage me to read more of the author's work and deserving of a 4-star rating...

...that is, if I were American. As a Brit, however, the constant Americanisation of the book grated hugely. This is after all a book about an English village written by an author who spent a considerable period of time living and studying in England. Most Brits (myself included) wouldn't know who Cotton Mather is, wouldn't nickname someone the Great White Oprah, wouldn't refer to someone as Yenta (there aren't usually too many Yiddish speakers in your average English village) and certainly wouldn't plow their fields. We don't plow, we plough! And all of those references come from just the first couple of chapters. If the author wanted to write about the US then she should have done so, but if writing about England then it's surely not too much to ask that the cultural references should be English. We even had references to 'Don't ask, don't tell' - hardly a major talking point over the village tea tables in a country where the policy never existed.

Rant over! Recommended as an enjoyable read to anyone who can tolerate the mish-mash of misplaced cultural references. For me, however, this problem means the book only rates as 3 stars.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Constable & Robinson.
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on 22 January 2014
There was too much information in the cast of characters that should have unfolded in the narrative.

You couldn't get a more stereotypical English village, but if you're going to write about that, use English - every American spelling jarred horribly.
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on 21 September 2013
This is a beautifully-written book, in the best tradition of the English village mystery; so much so that it was a surprise to see the US spelling throughout. The occasional solecism (monarch butterflies on the buddleia?) grated a little, but didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of it, and I look forward to reading the next in the series.
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on 13 January 2014
I am ashamed to say I have not heard of this author before but so glad I came across her novel Wicked Autumn. This is the first in the series,Fatal Winter being the second and Pagan Spring the third. The story introduces us to Max Tudor, ex MI5 secret agent but now vicar of Nether Monkslip, a quaint village in the south of England. He is devilishly handsome and the talk of the village; the male population wondering about his seemy past while the ladies enjoy his youthful good looks and wonder why he is single. The cast of characters introduced are not the usual stereotyped village idiots but a selecton of recent incommers, all with varying beliefs and interests and a scattering of the alternatives mainly involving Awena, the spiritual, slinkily gorgeous Pagan shop owner of Goddesspell, purveyor of all things new age, crystal and alternative therapies, (who is soon to be Max's controversial love interest with her divine heavenly body!) A murder is thrown into the mix early on in the story and so we then meet the allocated detective, DCI Cotton who teems up with Max( seeing a kindred spirit in the MI5 connection) The murder is inventive as the stalwart of the WI, one Wanda Barton-Smythe who singlehandedly has managed to allienate all the other members with her dominating demeanor thus giving the reader a good selection of suspects to chose from, is inventively killed off. The thing I enjoyed the most about this new novel was this authors tongue in cheek descriptions of all the characters, how she could make you as a reader so enthralled with the plot and suspects yet never treading the route of the usual cliched writings of others gone before in that her humour shone throughout. I was howling with laughter as I read each chapter and mentaly ticking off how many folk I know(living in a tiny village myself) who could easily fit the bill. The characterisations are fabulous, her descriptive narrative wonderful as is her sense of place and although I had an idea about half way through who the culprit might be, I didnt care, all I wanted to do was carry on reading and enjoy the company of these creations she has imagined in such a wonderful coutryside setting. Max is a joyful creation as is Awena and I just cannot wait to sink back into Nether Monkslip asap, now that is a sign of a jolly good read!
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on 24 June 2014
I'd been reading a lot of dark mysteries (Jo Nesbo, etc.) and was in the mood for a change so I ordered Wicked Autumn thinking that it would be a nice cozy English mystery with delightfully quirky characters.

It isn't. The characters are unconvincing and the plot unbelievable. The writing is tedious (too much exposition) and as for the dialogue…

I'm an American but even to me it was clear that the author isn't English and doesn't grasp the English use of language.

I couldn't finish the book.
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on 29 June 2014
Although this quite a fun read, there was something not quite convincing about the stories and characters in this book.The more I got into the more I thought it didn't quite ring true. Somehow the characters didn't quite behave like people in an English village and Max Tudor didn't seem like a real Anglican prieset - let alone an ex MI5 agent. When I realised that althought the author had lived in the UK for a while she was actually an American, it made sense. I like cosy crime but it needs to be authentic.
My other problem with this book is that it was very slow for anything to happen - the murder didn't take place until about half way through and I was gettinga little bit bored. I would probably give her next book a go if I needed something easy to read but I'm not rushing to buy it!
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on 9 October 2013
I wanted to read an easy going book at bedtime and this seemed to fit the bill. Having read the Sidney Shepherd series by James Runcie, I fancied something in a similar vane. While it is not as well written as the Sidney Shepherd Books, I was pleasantly surprised, likeable characters which are well drawn and believable. The prose is unremarkable, which may sound condescending, but what I mean is that is not so good or bad that you notice it; which is right for a book like this and leaves you to get on with the plot. Yes I will read the next one.
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on 23 October 2015
How this book was nominated for an award I cannot imagine. I also wonder what the editor, assuming there was one, contributed. The plot is thin and gets lost amongst the vapid dialogue and tedious description. There are occasional flashes of wit but they are vastly outnumbered by the jarring errors and Americanisms which grate terribly on the British reader. The author's England is a bizarre creation, a strange bucolic misconceived land that owes more to Thomas Kinkade than Agatha Christie. The hero, of whom we hear too little, is a former MI5 "agent" ( should have been officer) and is two-dimensional and unoriginal. The author appears not to know the difference between gourmet and gourmand or to understand the terms antiquarian and antique dealer. What kind of bungalow has plate tracery windows and a "varnished hall worthy of a small stately home"? Why would an antique dealer have their guest sit on a little gilt chair of some fragility? Why does everyone serve tea on trays? Why would a traditional English gent put peanut butter on his scone? These questions occupied my mind more than the whodunnit. I made it as far as chapter 18 but could not bear to subject myself to any more of the supposedly English characters uttering unlikely US speech and the rest of the glaring mistakes and other incongruous details. I wish I had bought the e-book; it seems a wicked fate for any tree to have to die to become the paper on which this awful book was printed.
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on 16 November 2013
This was a slow starter but it has charm and though a little slow was enjoyable. I will try the next one and hope for an improvement.
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