Our local bookclub read the Agatha Christie novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in January as a salute to the 100th anniversary to Christie's first publication. While we had a great discussion including comparisons to the various movie interpretations of the novel, most of us came to the conclusion that we are drawn to the more complex character development in more modern mysteries. We also wonder just what the upcoming release of a brand new MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, starring Johnny Depp, will do to the original plot and characters. We ended the evening by sharing names of "cozy mystery" series that we have enjoyed. I recommended Diane Mott Davidson's series featuring Goldie the caterer, but since there haven't been any new titles recently, I was eager to hear the recommendations of others.
That's how I came to read my first Penny Brannigan novel. Set in Wales (first book set in Wales for me, too), Penny is a transplanted Canadian who makes her living as a manicurist in a small village.
As the book opens, Penny's long time friend, former school teacher Emma Teasdale has just died and Penny tells the funeral director that she would like to do the friend's nails one last time as a tribute to their friendship. Then Penny must prepare for a busy weekend as she is going to the do the nails for a bridal party. Meg Wynne Thompson, the bride, is new to the community, and her upcoming marriage to the most eligible bachelor in Lianelen has everyone gossiping, especially after her drunken father has an outburst at the rehearsal dinner. The next day, when the bride fails to show up for the ceremony, it becomes apparent that Penny may have been the last person to see the missing bride. When Penny figures out that the person who came to get a manicure WAS NOT really Meg Wynne Thompson, the police suspect foul play.
I liked Duncan's writing and especially the development of the kind, quiet and observant Penny, but I felt that the mystery really took a back seat to Penny and her life in the village. That made it necessary for much of the mystery plot to be revealed at the very end. I guess I prefer mysteries which reveal more clues as you read along and which include both the victim and the villain in more of the plot. I've got lots on my to-read pile, but I think I can make time to try another Penny Brannigan story when I'm in the mood for a quiet mystery and a trip to Wales.