The Clue is in the Pudding by Kate Kingsbury

13542759It isn’t Christmas without a Kate Kingsbury mystery! And at the Pennyfoot Hotel, the holiday shenanigans don’t begin until someone gets bludgeoned with a nutcracker or incinerated by a flaming Christmas tree. Nestled in a quaint little coastal English hamlet, the Pennyfoot may look like something straight out of Dickens’ Village, but if you plan to spend the holidays there, you’re goose might just get cooked!

When the guests start streaming into the hotel for the Christmas holidays, Cecily Sinclair Baxter worries about the inevitable Christmas curse. Like clockwork, her loyal crew of housemaids will stumble upon a dead body, and she will have to take it upon herself to hunt down the murderer.

You see, in this tranquil seaside village, the police force leaves much to be desired. Oh and you can forget about her milquetoast of a husband helping her out. While she’s out in snowstorms chasing down murderous fiends, he’d much prefer to settle down by the fireplace with his newspaper. For once, I would love to see him take the initiative and tag-team these murder mysteries with his wife instead of constantly lecturing her to stay out of harm’s way. Hello! The cops are useless, so do you prefer to be a sitting duck?

Wow, that was quite the tirade. Sorry, Kate. I love your mysteries, I really do. But can you please make Baxter man up in the next book? Aside from my minor gripes, these mysteries are perfect holiday reads. There’s nothing I’d rather do on a cold winter’s night than nestle down into my comfy couch with some fireball whiskey, a tubby gray housecat and a Pennyfoot Hotel mystery. The author does a fine job unraveling just bits and pieces about the eclectic cast of hotel staff and dangling that carrot as their love stories develop. In this book, I finally got to see some sparks fly between Gertie and the enigmatic groundskeeper, Clyde. I promise to not give anything away, but I will say that there was a moment between them that was so incredibly sweet, I had to re-read it several times!

This is how I picture The Pennyfoot.

This is how I picture The Pennyfoot.

So this year, the Christmas curse comes in the form of a dead actor named Archibald Armitage. Seriously, what mother would name her kid Archibald? Well, I guess you could nickname him Archie like that cute freckled redhead dude in the comics…but I digress. So when the maid stumbles upon Archie’s dead body, it appears he was poisoned by a lethal dose of arsenic-laced plum pudding. All eyes point to the temporary head housemaid Beatrice Tucker (aka Tucker the Terrible), who personally served him the plum pudding up in his suite. She may be a tyrant, but is she capable of murder?

As Cecily hunts down the clues, she finds that several houseguests – and even some of her staff – have a beef with Archie. While her staff prepare for the holiday festivities, and her husband continues to sit on his ass with the newspaper, she will stop at nothing to ferret out the killer before he (or she?) strikes again.

I raise my mug of spiked cider to the author for delivering a deliciously atmospheric Christmas mystery filled with loveable characters, red herrings and romance! I look forward to meeting up with my old friends at the Pennyfoot next December.

Merry Christmas to all – and be sure to not accept unsolicited puddings from frienemies.

Gizzy’s Pick: Decked with Folly by Kate Kingsbury

Sometimes I just want to run away screaming from our technology-obsessed world, and the madness of reality TV.  I long for the days when I could go out to lunch with a friend without being interrupted by a chirping smart phone.  Remember the good ol’ days when friends would actually pick up the phone to wish you a happy birthday rather than posting a quick and dirty greeting on your Facebook wall? Shoot – you don’t even have to remember your friends’ birthdays anymore because Facebook will do that for you!  Thanks to social media, we don’t have to stop thinking about ourselves for even a moment. 

So when I need a break from reality (which happens a lot!) I pick up one of Kate Kingsbury’s cozy Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries. Set in Edwardian England – an era devoid of all things electronic – her fun little whodunits surround a posh seaside country club filled with an eclectic mix of quirky characters. 

When Christmastime rolls around, there’s no better place to be than the Pennyfoot Hotel, where the comforting aromas of pine and cedar infuse the air and the halls are festooned with holiday cheer. But if you want to live to see the New Year, it might be a good idea to admire the resplendent hotel from afar! The dreaded “Christmas Curse” (aka somebody drops dead every December) strikes again. And this time the body of Ian Rossiter, a former employee of the Pennyfoot, is found floating in the hotel duck pond. Cecily Baxter – the hotel’s proprietress and part-time amateur sleuth – suspects foul play after she connects a missing candlestick to the bludgeoned dent in Ian’s head. 

All fingers point to the hotel’s head housemaid, Gertie, who threatened Ian with a kitchen knife after he tried to kidnap her twins in the middle of the night. But when Cecily discovers plenty of others wanted Ian dead, she makes it her mission to clear Gertie’s name and nab the killer before another dead body shows up under the tree. 

In true Agatha Christie style, our cunning sleuth investigates a slew of suspects and stumbles upon clues when their stories don’t add up. What really happened the night of Ian’s death when two gallant suitors came to Gerty’s rescue? Let’s take a look at our suspects, shall we!

Gertie: If anyone has motive to kill that wormy Ian, it’s Gertie! Not only did he dupe her into a false marriage, he skipped town right after the birth of their twins. What scum! 

Clyde: The hotel’s head groundskeeper. Tall, dark and mysterious, there seems to be a lot more to this guy than a toolbox and a strong pair of arms. Did anger get the best of him that fateful night when he protected Gertie from Ian’s attack?  

Dan: Gertie’s flakey boyfriend. Handsome, successful and emotionally stable, Dan is a real catch. Too bad he doesn’t seem interested in popping the question.  When Gertie finds out he had a row with Ian that ill-fated night,  she begins to wonder if he could be capable of murder. 

Mabel: A very unpopular housemaid who just can’t seem to do her job right. For some inexplicable reason, this melancholy lonewolf seems to be hiding something. Why is she so depressed? And why is she always caught wandering into guests’ rooms for no reason? 

Gloria: Ian’s other wife. With nowhere to go after her husband’s untimely death, she  has no other option but to live on the streets and beg for money. Overwhelmed by the widow’s desperation, Cecily offers to let her stay at the Pennyfoot until she can get back on her feet. She soon regrets her generous offer when she realizes that Gloria could make trouble for Gertie. Is this all an elaborate plan to get back at her no-good husband and his true love? And why did she lie about her whereabouts the night Ian was murdered? 

Sid: The Pennyfoot’s newest stable-boy.  This shady fellow has a way with the ladies, and boy does he have designs on Gertie. Although he may seem charming to the hotel’s chambermaids, Gertie’s onto his games. When his flirtations escalate to harassment, Gertie begins to wonder if he’s the one who’s trying to frame her for murder.

Archibald:  A very shady hotel guest who seems to show up at the most inopportune times.  This troublemaker, who claims to be an herbal-remedy specialist, seems to be dead-set on spreading hysteria by gossiping about the murder.  Who is he really – and why does he seem to be lurking around every dark corner? 

If you’re in the mood for a good old fashioned mystery that’ll get you in the mood for Christmas – take a little trip to the Pennyfoot Hotel! This book is best paired with a steaming mug of spiked eggnog and your silliest pair of fluffy slippers.  And don’t forget to turn off those incessant chirping gadgets!