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.