Mrs. Jeffries and the three wise women

Emily Brightwell

Book - 2017

"As the holidays approach, all is merry and bright for Inspector Witherspoon, Mrs. Jeffries, and the staff at Upper Edmonton Gardens...but murder knows no season. MURDER UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR Christopher Gilhaney isn't a popular man, and he proves why once again when he insults every guest at Abigail Chase's Guy Fawkes Night dinner party. When Gilhaney is shot dead under the cover of the night's fireworks, his murder is deemed a robbery gone wrong. But when the case hasn't been solved six weeks later, Inspector Witherspoon is called upon to find the killer--and quickly! With Christmas almost here, Inspector Witherspoon and everyone in his household is upset at the possibility of having to cancel their holiday plans-...-all to solve a case that seems impossible. Only Luty Belle, Ruth, and Mrs. Goodge refuse to give up and let the crime become a cold case. In fact, the American heiress, the charming next-door neighbor, and the formidable cook use all of their persuasive powers to get the others on board, because these three wise women know justice doesn't take time off for Christmas"--

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Mystery fiction
Christmas fiction
Detective and mystery fiction
New York : Berkley Prime Crime 2017.
Main Author
Emily Brightwell (author)
First edition
Item Description
Series from book jacket.
Physical Description
282 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

On the twelfth day of Christinas, my writers gave to me: twelve stalkers stalking, eleven burglars burgling, ten sleuths a-sleuthing, nine creeps ?-creeping, eight looters looting, seven broken toys, six screaming kids, five overcooked birds, four stolen presents, three drunken uncles, two dead Santas and a madman swinging from a pear tree. I can't say that I found much originality in the book bag this year. As usual, the settings tend to be quaint; the characters cute; the crimes discreet; and the puzzle elements of less importance than the holiday menus. Worth a read among the traditional cozies: Barbara Early's MURDER ON THE TOY TOWN EXPRESS (Crooked Lane, $26.99), set ín a toy shop called Well Played and drolly featuring a murder based on pediophobia, the fear of dolls; Wendy Tyson's seeds of revenge (Henery Press, cloth, $31.95; paper, $15.95), a "greenhouse mystery" that finds chickens and goats and babies frolicking among the exotic love potions concocted at Merry's Flowers & Shrubs; and Maggie McConnon's BEL, BOOK AND SCANDAL (St. Martin's, paper, $7.99), a culinary mystery with nice characters but no recipes. From beyond the grave, P. D. James comes to the rescue with SLEEP NO MORE (Knopf, $21), a sophisticated collection of "six murderous tales," all stylishly told and worthy of being read aloud by the fire. "The Murder of Santa Claus" best conveys the holiday spirit. This atmospheric tale is told by a grown man named Charles Mickledore recalling the Christmas of 1939, when he was "a sensitive and solitary only child" of 16, condemned to spend the holiday with his rich old uncle at his gloomy manor house in the country. Uncle Victor has made an effort to brighten the place up, and after midnight he even puts on a Santa suit to deliver gifts to his sleeping guests. But during the night someone kills this generous soul and only Charles, as sly and secretive as he is "sensitive and solitary," knows whodunit. James's cunning tale is very much in the classic spirit of Christmas mysteries like Agatha Christie's "Hercule Poirot's Christmas," Ngaio Marsh's "Tied Up in Tinsel" and Martha Grimes's wonderful "Jerusalem Inn." Anne Perry also writes charming holiday mysteries every year, a Christmas return (Baliantine, $20), the 15th entry in this Victorian series, features Mariah Ellison, an elderly termagant who has resigned herself to spending yet another Christmas alone when the unexpected gift of an ornamental cannonball shocks her into revisiting an unsolved 20-year-old crime. Like Perry and James, Rhys Bowen sets her seasonal mystery in the past - specifically in 1906 New York, when it seems to snow with more abandon, the ghost of CHRISTMAS PAST (Minotaur, $24.99) finds the "semi-retired private detective" Molly Murphy Sullivan and her dashing husband at a grand mansion in the picturesque Hudson Valley village of Scarborough, where there are fresh snowfalls and sleigh rides and brainy suffragists to stir up trouble. When they move out of the past and into the present, mystery writers get positively giddy. HOW THE FINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (Thomas Dunne / Minotaur, $25.99) is typical fare. Donna Andrews, author of "Duck the Halls" and "Six Geese ?-Slaying," among other avian-themed mysteries, inflicts "an epidemic of Gouldian finch smuggling" on Caerphilly, Va., just as the town is getting dolled up for a production of "A Christmas Carol." The professional actor hired to play Scrooge comes with a drinking problem and a reputation for being difficult, but we forgive this ham his sins because he dotes on a pretty little finch he names Fiona. Getting through Emily Brightwell's 36th series mystery, MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE THREE WISE WOMEN (Berkley Prime Crime, $25), is more of a slog. Not because the characters are burdened with names like Luty Belle Crookshank and made to "chuckle" their dialogue. Not even because the British sleuth famed for having "solved more murders than anyone in the history of the Metropolitan Police" is an amiable fool whose celebrated cases were all solved by his household staff. I'm not even going to pick at the lightweight plot about the shooting death of a boorish man who insulted every other guest at a Guy Fawkes Night dinner party, which seems only fair. Far more deserving of recrimination is the illiterate dialogue inflicted on characters like Wiggins, the footman, forced to declare: "Cor blimey, I knew this was goin' to 'appen. Why do people keep killin' each other durin' the 'olidays?" The amusing but basically sober short stories collected in THE USUAL SANTAS (Soho Crime, $19.95) show up just in time to save us from sugar overload. True wit and something like genuine Christmas spirit have gone into the title story by Mick Herron, and Helene Tursten's delicious "An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime" is tastier than all those confections with kittens and puppies and sleigh bells. And, lest we lose perspective, Peter Lovesey's introduction reminds us that "crime statistics spike at this time of year.... And even when the run-up to the holiday ends and the streets become more peaceful, domestic violence increases behind locked doors." With this in mind, I say: "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night." MARILYN STASIO has covered crime fiction for the Book Review since 1988. Her column appears twice a month.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 24, 2018]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

At the start of Brightwell's delightful 36th Victorian mystery (after Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong), Christopher Gilhaney is shot dead on his way home from a London dinner party on Guy Fawkes Night, a gathering at which he insulted every guest, making for a large suspect list. Unfortunately, the original police inspector on the case treats it as a mere robbery, botching the investigation. Insp. Gerald Witherspoon has to step in days before Christmas, putting everyone's holiday plans in jeopardy. Fortunately, Mrs. Jeffries, Witherspoon's housekeeper, and her team of household servants are ready to help the inept inspector find out who killed Gilhaney and why. Though newcomers may have trouble keeping track of the many house staffers and their relationships, Brightwell does a good job of unfolding the suspects' backstories while keeping the true culprit obscured to the very end. A passing reference to suffragists makes a moving statement about the mainly female staff members who work in secret to solve crimes and keep the innocent safe. This long-running historical series shows no sign of losing steam. Agent: Donald Maass, Donald Maass Literary. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review by Library Journal Review

The 36th book (after Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong) in this popular historical series finds Inspector Witherspoon of Scotland Yard and his household led by housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries anticipating their holiday plans until a botched murder investigation is assigned to Witherspoon. Given that the killing happened six weeks ago, all are feeling rather pessimistic about achieving justice for Christopher Gilhaney in time to enjoy the holidays. The staff soon rallies and begins hunting for clues to aid their employer. The inimitable Mrs. Jeffries needs a nudge from her three wise women, Luty Belle, Ruth, and Mrs. Goodge, to pursue the case wholeheartedly, but once she's on board, there's no chance of the killer getting away. VERDICT An entertaining and well-crafted Victorian mystery that will attract readers of Anne Perry and Victoria Thompson. © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Victorian sleuths from every social stratum imaginable work in the background to solve cases.Six weeks after he's given the case of Christopher Gilhaney, killed in an apparent botched robbery on his way home from a Guy Fawkes Night dinner party, bungling Inspector Nivens has gotten no results. Now the police, thinking it was a deliberate murder, hand the case to Inspector Gerald Witherspoon, who, along with his reliable constable Barnes, has a near-perfect record at catching killers. Not even Witherspoon realizes that the secret to his success is his network of sleuthing servants, gossips, informants, and wealthy friends who supply tidbits the police would never hear. This time, his housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, and her staff are less eager to get involved because Christmas is near and they fear their holiday plans will be ruined if they don't solve the case in record time. Gilhaney was a financial genius hired by Newton Walker to work his magic on the failing Walker and Company. Abigail Chase, who, with her husband, Gordon, hosted the Guy Fawkes party, remains so incensed by his rude behavior that six weeks later she still remembers most of what he said to the people he insulted, all of whom have ties to Walker and Company. Convinced that one of the party guests had to be the killer, Witherspoon sets out to investigate their backgrounds. The sulking staff, aware that the only way to salvage their Christmas plans is to find the culprit, fan out far and wide in search of clues. Fans of Brightwell's venerable series (Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong, 2017, etc.) will be delighted to revisit the clever sleuths as they wade through a plethora of suspects and motives in this pleasant holiday tale. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 November 5 Guy Fawkes Night "That awful man is never going to be welcome in this house again," Abigail Chase muttered to her husband. They stood in the doorway of their elegant Chelsea town house and watched as the man in question disappeared around the corner and into the mews. "He completely ruined my dinner party." She glared at her husband for a moment before turning and flouncing off. Gordon Chase closed the door and hurried after her. "Darling, it wasn't that bad. Gilhaney's a bit rough around the edges, but he meant no harm." She stopped at the entrance to the drawing room. "Meant no harm," she sneered. "He insulted every single one of our guests and frankly, it's all your fault. You should never have insisted we include him and don't even think about asking him to our Christmas party. I'll not have that ruined as well." "But, darling, be reasonable, I had to ask him, I had no choice. Newton's put him on the board and he made it very clear, he expected us to host him tonight." Gordon hurried after her as she continued into the room. "I don't care how important Newton Walker thinks the man is to his company, he's a boor and a bully and I'll never have him in the house again." She pointed to the carriage clock on the mantel. "It's not even nine o'clock and our guests have gone. Most of them didn't even bother to finish their dessert. That wretched man ruined our Bonfire Night festivities." She grimaced as a loud noise boomed through the house. "Hear that? Fireworks are still going off, people are out having fun and enjoying the evening, but not us. There's no revelry here, there's no November the fifth celebration for us, thanks to that odious fellow." She glared at her husband in exasperation. "You shouldn't have told him about the shortcut through the mews-it would have served him right to go the long way around. Well, I for one hope that Christopher Gilhaney breaks an ankle when he takes that shortcut. It'll be dark enough, that's for certain." Unlike his host and hostess, the man in question had thoroughly enjoyed himself at the Chase dinner party. He chuckled as he went farther into the mews, squinting just a bit to make his way. Mind you, it had ended a bit early for his taste, but heÕd had a fine meal as well as the satisfaction of watching them squirm. He pulled his coat tighter against the chill night air and smiled as he remembered the shocked expressions on each of their faces as heÕd quietly attacked them with his carefully scripted comments. God, it had been glorious and it was just the beginning. Before he was finished, the whole lot of them would be sorry. Another explosion rocked the night, this time from the direction of the river. Shouts and laughter mingled with the faint, acrid scent of smoke and for a brief moment, he was overcome with nostalgia. He wished he were back in the old days, back when he'd have been on the banks of the Thames with his beloved Polly and their friends; drinking beer, watching the bonfires, and setting off the few fireworks they could afford. But those times were long gone. Polly was long gone. He slowed his steps as he moved farther into the darkness, but his eyesight was excellent and he could easily see his way. Tonight had been far more successful than he'd hoped. When Chase had originally invited him, he'd been going to content himself with firing off a few verbal salvos. But his well-rehearsed comments had hit their individual targets with amazing success and, one after another, they'd fled the battlefield. Silly fools, this war was just beginning. He felt a bit bad about poor Mrs. Chase; she'd looked horrified as her guests disappeared, but she'd get over it. Another burst of fireworks exploded into the noisy night, rising above the shouts, screams, and laughter now coming from all directions. Bonfire Night was drawing to a close and he, for one, intended to get home to his warm bed. The November night was cold and the dampness was seeping through his shoes and into his feet. As the fireworks faded, he heard footsteps ahead. He stopped for a moment and listened. Someone had come into the mews from the other end, but he wasn't overly alarmed. There were a lot of people out and about tonight and he wasn't the only person using this shortcut. It slashed a quarter of a mile off the walk between Chelsea and the railway station. Nonetheless, he put his hand in his pocket and slipped his fingers through the brass knuckles he carried for protection. It paid to be cautious. Ahead of him, a figure emerged and came steadily toward him. The sky suddenly dimmed as the moon slipped behind the clouds so he couldn't see anything except a human shape, but whoever it was moved to the opposite side of the mews. Apparently, they, too, were wary of meeting strangers in dark places. Reassured, he picked up his pace and began planning what he'd do tomorrow. Newton had told him the first clerks arrived at eight o'clock. He intended to be there at five past eight. He wanted a few words with the accounts clerks before anyone else was present. Newton had assured him that the management didn't arrive till nine at the earliest. His companion was now close enough for him to make out some details. His steps faltered as he realized whoever it was wore a shapeless, hooded cloak, a garment that looked like it should be hanging around the figure of one of the Old Guy effigies along the riverbank. The cloak covered whoever it was from head to toe, making it impossible to determine if it was a male or female. Surprised, he stared as they came level and then passed each other on opposite sides of the mews. Suddenly uneasy, because there was something about the figure that simply wasn't right, he sucked in a deep breath of air and hurried toward the gas lamp at the far end. A rash of fireworks went off, along with cheering and shouting from the throngs near the Thames. But despite the noise, his sharp hearing caught the sound of footsteps racing toward him and he turned, pulling the hand wearing the brass knuckles out of his pocket as he moved. But he was too late; just as the last of the sound of explosions filled the air, the cloaked figure held out a gun and fired three bullets straight into his heart. Christopher Gilhaney had barely hit the ground before his assailant knelt down and pulled the brass knuckles off his cold, dead hand. Inspector Nigel Nivens stood in Chief Superintendent BarrowsÕ third-floor office at Scotland Yard and argued that he was the right man for the task. ÒThis isnÕt a murder, it is a robbery gone wrong. According to his landlady, when he left his lodging house last night, Mr. Gilhaney was wearing a diamond stickpin on his cravat and a gold ring with a black stone in the center. Neither of those items was found on his body.Ó Nivens was a man of medium height with dark blond hair graying at the temples, bulbous blue eyes, cheeks that were turning to jowls, and a thick mustache. He wore a gray pinstriped suit tailored to disguise the fact that he was running too fat around his middle. Chief Superintendent Barrows stared at him impassively. He now wished he'd gone with his first instinct when he'd been informed of the murder last night and called in Inspector Witherspoon. But he'd hesitated and now, given the politics of the Home Office and Nivens' family's influence, he was probably stuck with the fellow. Drat. "The landlady is prepared to swear at the inquest that he had those items on his person when he left her premises?" "She is, sir. This crime was most definitely a robbery, and as such, I believe I'm the most qualified to handle the case, not Inspector Witherspoon. What's more, Kilbane Mews is well within my district, not Witherspoon's." "When it comes to murder, you know good and well that the spot where the corpse was found isn't the most important factor. Catching the killer is." Barrows pushed his glasses up his nose and leaned back in his chair. He toyed with the idea of giving the case to Witherspoon simply because he didn't like Nivens, but at this juncture, that might cause more trouble than it was worth. The fellow was from a family that had both money and aristocratic connections. Nivens wasn't a bad copper, but he wasn't a brilliant one, either, and they needed this crime solved. On the other hand, if the killing of Christopher Gilhaney was the result of a botched robbery and not murder, then perhaps he was more qualified to handle the case; he was actually quite good at solving burglaries and catching robbers. But Barrows wanted to ensure that justice was done properly as well. He might be in administration now, but he was still a policeman at heart. "What's more, I'm not as certain as you seem to be that the crime was a robbery. Gilhaney died from three gunshots to his chest. Robbers and ruffians don't use guns. If they get violent at all, they cosh their victim over the head or knock the wind out of him." Nivens was ready for that question. "What about the Ogden case? Harry Ogden was killed by a gun when he was robbed. He was shot twice." "Yes, but it was his own pistol," Barrows reminded him. "Ogden carried it for protection, remember? He was only shot with it because Jack Rayley, his assailant, grabbed it when Ogden pulled it out of his pocket." "I know that, Chief Superintendent, but nonetheless, it was a case of a firearm used during the course of a robbery, which means that regardless of the circumstances, it's likely this is merely a case of a botched robbery, not a murder." Nivens' gaze flicked to the window. He stared at the busy boat and barge traffic on the Thames. He needed to make a compelling argument to keep this case away from Inspector Witherspoon. He was sick and tired of Gerald Witherspoon always being the one the Yard called upon when there was a newsworthy case to be solved. "Furthermore, there was the case in Brighton last month of another gun being used in a robbery. That young hotel clerk who was taking the day's receipts to the bank. If you'll recall, sir, that resulted in a shooting as well. The clerk was wounded in the leg and the perpetrators managed to get away." "Brighton isn't London," Barrows said. "But it isn't that far from London, sir. What's more, the criminals that committed the Brighton robbery could have easily come here. My point is this, sir: We've seen a steady rise in the number of cases involving firearms. There was also that shooting in Stepney, sir, and the victim claimed he was being robbed." "The victim was a Whitechapel thug that was involved in a fight for territory with the Stepney gang. He only came up with that story to keep from being arrested himself." Barrows sighed inwardly. "But in one sense, you're right. There is some evidence that points to the increased use of firearms. So you can take this case." Nivens nodded smartly. "Thank you, sir." "Don't thank me, Inspector-I expect you to find the person or persons that did this dreadful crime." "Of course, sir. I've got constables out questioning the locals, just in case someone might have seen something, and I've got the word out to my network of informers so we should have something from that quarter soon." "Good, we've already got the Home Office sticking their oar in so I'll expect you to take care of this quickly and efficiently." "I assure you, sir"-Nivens gave him a tight smile-"I've every confidence I shall have it solved in just a few days." But the case wasnÕt solved in a few days or, for that matter, weeks later. It was as if the assailant had simply vanished into thin air. Nivens stood outside of Barrows' office and took a deep, calming breath. He knew why he'd been summoned here and it wasn't so that the chief superintendent could compliment him on a job well done. He was at his wits' end, but blast it, it wasn't his fault. No one, not even the great Witherspoon, could have solved this case. None of the neighbors in the mews had paid any attention to loud noises. After all, it was Bonfire Night and half the city was letting off fireworks, drinking like sailors, and screaming as the "Old Guy" burned. A few gunshots wouldn't have stood out. Nor had anyone seen a suspicious figure in the area-again, it was November the fifth and half of London was out roaming the streets. His network of informers had also drawn a blank. No diamond stickpins or gold rings had shown up at any of the dodgy pawnshops suspected of fencing stolen goods. No matter how much pressure he applied, no one, not even his most reliable informers, had heard anything about a botched robbery. It was now December eighteenth and Nivens knew he had to come up with a way to deflect the blame off himself or, failing that, make sure that Witherspoon took over the case. That was the only way he could rebound from this failure. This crime wasn't going to be solved by anyone, but if he tried to make that argument right now, Barrows wouldn't believe it. Their glorious inspector, the one who'd solved more crimes than anyone in the history of the Metropolitan Police Force, needed to fail as well. Now he just had to make certain that Barrows handed the case to the right person. Getting rid of this case was the wisest course; if anyone was to have a black mark against his record, let it be Gerald Witherspoon. Nivens smiled in satisfaction. He'd go ahead and enjoy the holidays by accepting Lord Ballinger's invitation to spend Christmas at his estate in Scotland. He chuckled as he lifted his hand and knocked on the door. "Come in." He stepped inside. "Good morning, sir. I understand you wish to see me." Barrows looked up from the open file on his desk. "I'd like you to explain yourself, Inspector. I've gone through your reports on the Gilhaney case and there's not so much as a hint that you're close to an arrest. For God's sake, Nivens, what's going on here? You insisted that you'd be able to solve this case easily, but it's been six weeks!" Excerpted from Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women by Emily Brightwell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.