A Bicycle Built for Murder Mass Market Paperback – 1 Feb 2001
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It's WWII, and the idyllic village of Sitting Marsh is experiencing all the backlash: food rationing, constant worry, and the added stress for the locals to have to deal with Americans, whom are considered "barbarians" (page 8). Problems arise simultaneously for Elizabeth: on the one hand, she is told about the disappearance (and subsequent murder) of a local girl; on the other, she is approached by the American Major of the Regiment assigned to the village, with an order coming directly from the War Office, clearly stating that she is to surrender her house to be quarters for the American soldiers. Elizabeth is tangled in a web of murder and rivalries in the role of keeper of the peace between the locals - with her own housekeeper and senile butler in tow - when the murdered girl's mother approaches her with a special request: to find her daughter's killer. Elizabeth, as lady of the Manor, cannot say no. The reader will accompany Elizabeth in her errands to find information, savoring all the typical English camaraderie, which consists mainly, of lots of tea and "proper" gossip. I did enjoy the idea of the Manor House as center for a typical British cozy; however, the whole idea of the war distracted me in my search for it. Experiencing some of the frustration Elizabeth feels when trying to interpret the clues she finds, I just couldn't find myself in the story. I was looking for a cozy mystery, but seemed to be reading a war story all the time (something I find personally boring). I also found out whodunit right before the end of the book; however, unless the reader is familiar with this type of story, he or she won't. I can only hope the next books in the series do not throw WWII into the story as much; but rather present it as a background.
It is rather appropriate as well, that Kingsbury chose Norfolk as the geographical place for Sitting Marsh. The county of Norfolk has for a long time been one that Royalty has made their favorite for their private residences: Sandringham House, the Queen's winter retreat; and Park House, the place where Princess Diana grew up, are located in this part of the country.
The dedication at the beginning of the book is probably one of the best ones I have come across: "This book is dedicated to the men, women, and children of Great Britain who kept the home fires burning during the Second World War with unswerving humor, unwavering courage, and the indispensable cup of tea." Just by that, one can guess what's going to be on the plate right away.
After a bit of a slow start, this became quite an absorbing cosy murder mystery. I grew to like Lady Elizabeth and her eccentric staff more and more as the story developed. Set during the Second World War, it has quite a good period atmosphere and does not make the historical gaffes that some novels do when they are set in the UK but emanate from the US. There are some amusing moments [though the author can drag out the joke a bit]. The circumstances of the murder are a bit hackneyed. Her characters are quite interesting and I certainly did not guess who the murderer was. I would read another, if only to discover whether Elizabeth gets her man!
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