'A missing wheelie bin, a gunfight with no bodies, and a carrier bagful of groceries are the ingredients that make up this romping, ultra-English, murder mystery tale. Our heroes are two old college friends, each equally batty in their own way. Together they must solve the mystery in Little Wychwell...in between coffee mornings, rowing practice and the imminent arrival of a bouncing baby.'
Classics scholar Priscilla adores her life teaching at an Oxford University college. Her existence is ordered and uncluttered, giving her plenty of time for what matters most – work. However, Priscilla’s world is thrown into disarray when her friend Elodea has to go away suddenly, leaving Priscilla stuck at Elodea’s house in the village of Little Wychwell in charge of a Yorkshire terrier called Pippy, after church refreshments, and a rather large and smelly pig.
To make matters worse Priscilla soon finds herself embroiled in a bizarre mystery involving a dead body, a wheelie bin, a pig sty and some discarded Tesco carrier bags. Aiding in her investigations (when he’s not getting Prisilla to drive him to early morning rowing practice) is Elodea’s son Barnabus, a young man keen on adventure who knows exactly how to handle his ‘Aunt Prissy’ and her funny little ways.
Barnabus’ persuasive tactics were pure genius, I loved the way he managed to wind Priscilla right round his little finger, getting her to do things she’d never normally dream of agreeing to with just a few well chosen compliments and perhaps a grin thrown in for good measure. Barnabus and Priscilla made an unusual, but brilliant pairing. Their detective skills weren’t quite up to those of Hercule Poirot, and much of their success was more down to pure luck than anything else, but their endeavours were certainly very amusing.
The description of the Sunday sermon at the village church was almost painfully funny, particularly when Priscilla attempts to make a quiet early exit. The service made a wonderful platform to showcase some of the many eccentrics the village had to offer, and I loved them all, especially the Horace quoting vicar.
The murder mystery itself was inventive and certainly kept me guessing, although it did come together a little too quickly towards the end of the book for my liking. There weren’t really enough early hints as to the culprit, meaning I didn’t get a chance to speculate as much as I’d have liked to.
‘Did Anyone Die?’ was a brilliantly English romp; the only thing missing was the Famous Five’s obligatory lashings of ginger beer. Stafford has produced a work that I found completely charming, a murder mystery of the most civilised sort, with plenty of stops for rowing practice and cake, and without too many of those pesky police officers getting in the way of the fun!
"When newly retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley, needs a good rest and somewhere comfortable to recover from a hospital stay, she believes Firstone Grange will be the ideal place. Luxurious and perfectly run by a competent and understanding matron, it seems wonderful at first glance. However, there is a serpent in this paradise and Harriet soon realizes that some of the residents are very frightened. When a particularly horrific death occurs and Harriet finds herself in danger, she calls on her cousin and best friend, the Rev’d Sam Hathaway, and together they attempt to discover the terrible truth… Harriet Quigley is usually reluctant to admit she needs help, but she is sensible enough to ensure that she gets some proper rest after her operation. Consequently she books herself into the very exclusive, and expensive, residential home, Firstone Grange, not wanting to burden anyone whilst she convalesces. It’s not long however before relaxation is the last thing on her mind as one of the other residents dies in what appears to be a tragic accident. Harriet though is sure that she smells foul play and is determined to get to the bottom of her suspicions."
‘Murder Fortissimo’ is a murder mystery in the true spirit of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. It contains a fantastic array of personalities, of all different ages and backgrounds: there’s pretty much someone for any reader to find affinity with.
Harriet made a wonderful central character: shrewd and very sharp, but extremely likeable – you can understand why the other characters turn to her for solace and advice. I liked her independent streak and the relationship with her cousin Sam was just lovely.
My favourite by far of the residents of Firstone Grange has got to be Christiane Marchant. She must be one of the best villainesses ever written; I would say she even beats Cruella de Vil! She’s so evil to her poor daughter Alice and so conniving in her tormenting of the other residents – I can’t imagine her ever doing anything that wasn’t in her own self-interest.
The death being investigated is brilliantly gruesome, but as the deceased character was so horrible, the reader can enjoy the blood and gore without any of those annoying twinges of sadness which can sometimes get in the way of enjoying a good murder! You could see motives for so many of the characters to get rid of her, that I honestly had no idea who’d ‘dunnit’ until it was revealed.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when discovering the identity of the murderer, and there was a point in the book when I thought it improbable that so many characters would confess their sins to Harriet and her cousin in so short a time, but these minor niggles didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of what was a very good book.
‘Murder Fortissimo’ is my idea of a really gripping yarn: the reader is kept intrigued right until the end and is entertained throughout by some great characters in a setting just ripe for a decent murder. Thoroughly enjoyable!