Christmas Review: Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown

Murder MysteriesChristmas is truly over! There are no more Brussel sprouts in the fridge and I’ve finished my mini detective-readathon.

Murder at the Old Vicarage was the last novel on my list and looked like the perfect book for the holiday season. With a snowy front cover and ‘A Christmas Mystery’ stamped on the front, I’d readied myself for a festive bonanza.

Though there are glimpses of holiday cheer, this is not a ‘cosy’ story. I enjoyed the twists and turns in the plot but anyone looking for a gentle read should brace themselves. There are multiple affairs and a grisly death-by-poker.

This novel was a nice change from the last three mysteries I reviewed, as it has a comparatively modern setting. Despite the Agatha Christie reference in the title, it’s based in the 1980s.

Snow and Secrets 

The story begins in an English village, shortly before Christmas. The festive cheer is shattered when the vicar’s violent son-in-law turns up to demand his estranged spouse’s return. The son-in-law is a wife-beater and so unpleasant I nearly cheered when he was found done-to-death a few pages later.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a major spoiler! The focus of the book isn’t the murder, it’s puzzling out whodunnit. Could it be George, the clergyman who is losing his faith, Marion, his strong-minded wife or Joanna, their battered daughter? Young, church-going widow Eleanor Langton, adds an extra complication – why has the vicar been making impromptu visits to her cottage? 

Acting Chief Inspector Lloyd and Detective Sergeant Judy follow a string of red herrings and contradictory clues in their search for the truth. In traditional detective story fashion, the officers are also negotiating their own romance. Their love life is so complicated it’s a subplot in its own right.

Some parts of this story seem a little dated, but that’s to be expected after thirty years. I enjoyed the misdirection; the author keeps the plot moving without drifting too far from the main event. Yes, it’s possible to guess the culprit but Jill McGown throws in plenty of distractions. There are even a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to a shrewd old lady – could this be a mini tribute to Christie’s Miss Marple?

Verdict: Murder at the Old Vicarage isn’t heavily focused on the holiday season but it’s a solid mix of romance and suspense. This won’t be a novel I pick up again and again, but it’s a fun way to pass an afternoon. 

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