Remembering the Dead
By Elizabeth J. Duncan
Penny Brannigan #10
Crooked Lane Books, 2019
In award-winning author Elizabeth J. Duncan’s tenth Penny Brannigan mystery set in North Wales, Canadian amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan attends a dinner party at a posh country house–where a historic chair disappears and a waiter is murdered.
Artist and spa owner Penny Brannigan has been asked to organize a formal dinner to mark the centenary of the armistice that ended World War One. After dinner, the guests adjourn to the library for a private exhibition of the Black Chair, a precious piece of Welsh literary history awarded in 1917 to poet Hedd Wyn. But to the guests’ shock, the newly restored bardic chair is missing. And then Penny discovers the rain-soaked body of a waiter.
When Penny learns that the victim was the nephew of one of her employees, she is determined to find the killer. Meanwhile, the local police search for the Black Chair. The Prince of Wales is due to open an exhibit featuring the chair in three weeks, so time is not on their side. A visit to a nursing home to consult an ex-thief convinces Penny that the theft of the Black Chair and the waiter’s murder are connected. She rushes to Dublin to consult a disagreeable antiquarian, who might know more than he lets on, and during the course of her investigation confronts a gaggle of suspicious travelers and an eccentric herbalist who seems to have something to hide. Can Penny find the chair and the culprit before she is laid to rest in the green grass of Wales?
For anyone who enjoys British mysteries, the Penny Brannigan series by Elizabeth J. Duncan is a winner. And a Welsh setting is simply the icing on the cake! I discovered this series many years ago when searching for murder mysteries set in the UK on the Stop, You're Killing Me! website (an essential resource for mystery lovers) and have greatly enjoyed each story. Remembering the Dead easily stands alone, but reading through the series gives a familiarity with the characters and setting.
Remembering the Dead is one of my favorites from the series, probably because of its historical detail and theme of honoring those who served and died in the first World War. I learned that Wales is a country that honors poets, the historical chair symbolizing that “the poet has a place at the table of princes.” The Black Chair itself was a national treasure, considered to be the masterpiece of a Belgian refugee. That it was bestowed upon a national poet was something that every person in the country would have known about – not exactly easy for a thief to hide.
Remembering the Dead has all the elements of a cozy mystery – murder committed off stage, amateur detective, idyllic setting – but is more serious and complex than what is typical for this genre. That’s a compliment, something that I loved about this story. The author vividly conveys the North Wales setting of Llanelen, with its natural beauty and interesting residents. When asked to organize a dinner party at Emyr’s estate, Ty Brith Hall, to celebrate Remembrance Day and mark the end of World War I, Penny Brannigan involves a few friends and business connections to help. The Black Chair, with its connection to the war, will also be there for one night, for the chair “represents all the empty chairs in front of the hearth that the lads and men of World War I never came home to.”
The mystery is well crafted, with beautiful prose, and one clue seemingly leading to another. I loved that there was a self-contained group of suspects, for the thief/murderer almost had to be a guest, staff, or someone with intimate knowledge of Emyr’s estate. Penny Brannigan makes a great protagonist with her skill, logic, intelligence and insight. She is methodic in her investigation and doesn’t rush headlong into danger. I loved reconnecting with some of the recurring characters who play important parts, such as the gossipy Mrs. Lloyd, ex-thief Jimmy, and eccentric herbalist Dilys. Remembering the Dead is an excellent mystery, one that I never wanted to put down.
I received a copy of this book through Great Escapes Tours. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.
A two-time winner of the Bloody Words (Bony Blithe) Award for Canada’s best light mystery, Elizabeth J. Duncan is the author of two series of traditional mysteries: the Penny Brannigan series set in North Wales and Shakespeare in the Catskills featuring costume designer and amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax.
A former journalist, public relations practitioner, and college professor, Elizabeth is a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. She divides her time between Toronto, Canada, and Llandudno, North Wales.
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