Anybody who made it through yesterdays quite long post dedicated to my favourite drinks references in 'Mortmain Hall' will probably already have gathered that I enjoyed this book. I never doubted that I would after 'Gallows Court' (the first in the series) and was very pleased to be invited to join the blog tour again for this one.
I mostly know Martin Edwards through his work with The British Library Crime Classics series, and the two books he's written about the history of Golden Age detective fiction. There can be few people better qualified to write a something set in 1930, and possibly the best thing about these books is how much fun Edwards has with doing that.
We get wealthy, mysterious, Rachel Savernake and smart young journalist Jacob Flint again, this time investigating a series of cases where people just might be getting away with murder. But how, and why. Who is working behind the scenes to make this happen? Rachel isn't the only person who has noticed something is amiss, there's also the criminologist Leonora Dobell (pen name Leo Slaterbeck) who has an agenda of her own...
Everything comes to a head at Mortmain Hall, a deliciously gothic setting, in the teeth of a storm and better yet with all the suspects gathered in the library for the big reveal. There are a lot of things that go into making these books work so well, one being that they are very much an homage to Golden Age fiction, full of references and jokes. In that respect 'Mortmain Hall' reminds a little of some of the Detection Club efforts - specifically 'Ask A Policeman' where the various contributors swap their usual detectives.
The plot also matters, and 'Mortmain Hall' delivers something deliciously twisty, with plenty of red herrings and sub plots along the way, followed by a satisfactory conclusion. It works perfectly well as a stand alone piece, and if you know nothing about the era beyond seeing a couple of Agatha Christie adaptations (is it possible that there's anybody who hasn't seen at least one episode of Marple or Poirot?).
For anybody with a deeper interest in the period there is a treasure trove of reference to puzzle out. I've read enough to have recognised some of them, and to suspect more, but if I was minded to there's much more to chase up and analyze than what the characters choose to drink. The addition of a clue finder at the back is a happy reintroduction. It doesn't make much sense until you've finished the book so there are no spoilers, but it does mean you can look back and see how the clues built up.
I also really like the characters of Rachel and Jacob. Rachel is intelligent, beautiful, rich, and utterly ruthless, it's that final quality that gives her the moral ambiguity that makes her so interesting. She's intriguing, and attractive, but not necessarily likable, and I think that's a real strength. Jacob by contrast is more human, almost smart enough to keep up with Rachel, but prone to making silly mistakes when confronted by a pretty face, and with an entirely conventional moral compass. As friends they have an excellent chemistry that has a lot to offer in what I hope will be a long series of mysteries.