by Sharon Tucker
While we ready ourselves for Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman in Arthur Conan Doyle’s nineteenth century London adventure, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride on PBS January 1, 2016, you are probably in the mood to start your holiday early by reading a Christmas cozy. The Mrs. Jeffries and Inspector Witherspoon series by Emily Brightwell (AKA Cheryl Lanham) is just the ticket. It’s murder most Victorian in Mrs. Jeffries and the Yuletide Weddings (2009), Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-up (2011) and Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen (2014).
The series begins with The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries (1993) after Inspector Witherspoon has inherited a largish home in London’s Edmonton Gardens including all the accoutrements a gentleman could desire: housekeeper, butler, cook, coachman, footman and assorted maids as well as a tidy income to keep them all.
The reader quickly learns that the Inspector is a good policeman and a kind man, despite being rather squeamish about viewing dead bodies, and that his staff, led by the housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, make it their business to quietly assist him in his cases because they respect and appreciate him. It doesn’t hurt that the household can boast serving London’s most successful investigator either.
While it’s true that initially in the series, the Inspector often holds to the era’s pedestrian notions of class and gender roles, it is all the more fortunate his household sees through this to the innately decent man. By the time of these Christmas novels, the Inspector has learned and grown past many of his conventional notions you will be glad to learn.
It’s the week before Christmas and two of Inspector Witherspoon’s staff are about to marry at last, therefore Mrs. Jeffries and the Yuletide Weddings finds the household busily preparing for the occasion. Yet another wedding is in the offing in an even more posh district of London – that of Rosemary Evans and her somewhat older fiancé, Sir Madison Lowrey.
All their guests are assembled and celebrating high tea when just outside the front gate of their residence the body of Rosemary’s former governess is discovered, baffling everyone. No one claims to know she was even there! But if so, why had the curtains on the street side of the house been drawn so early in the day? Both the police and the Inspector’s staff investigate the latter with as much alacrity as possible, since the staff wedding is imminent and has already been postponed twice. Three postponements would be a bit much.
Mrs. Jeffries’ sub rosa investigative team has had the addition of a few more detectives by the time of the action in Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe-Mix-up and the crime that initially mobilizes them is a murder by Korean long sword, a little exotic even for Mrs. Jeffries! The crime scene – that is, the McCourt household at 12 Victoria Gardens – had already been in an uproar when the novel started with an insurrection on the feminine front, a tea party with an unpleasant agenda underway and a fire that forced the evacuation of the premises. The discovery of a body dispatched on the study floor trumps all that when the smoke clears and the staff returns.
Is the newly independent spouse a murderer? Is the murderer a disgruntled relative settling a past injury? Two investigations prove to be better than one as the Inspector and his constables pursue regular channels of investigation, while the staff ferrets out information that no “copper” could.
Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen finds the well-to-do of London enthusiastically investing in foreign mining ventures in Africa. The most successful investment broker of them all seems to be Orlando Edison who has the Merry Gentleman – three of the city’s wealthiest and most influential investors – in his pocket. Or does he?
Since Edison’s body is discovered just outside his front door shortly after carolers have been by to sing for him, perhaps not! As Inspector Witherspoon and his able crew investigate the interested parties, Mrs. Jeffries and her able staff are not quite up to par this time out. It seems each one has his or her own distractions keeping them from focusing properly on the case. Will they rally in time to find the murderer before another victim is discovered? Will this investigation be like none other in the series in that the Inspector is left primarily to his own devices? After all, it is the Christmas season and perhaps the London Constabulary could manage just this once.
If you enjoy Victorian settings for your mysteries (or would like to), you’ll revel in each of Brightwell’s gentle tales! The Christmas entries in the series are especially fun for me because I have a habit of “coming over all British” in December. It’s easy to blame Charles Dickens for that yearning to experience a London Christmas at least once in a lifetime and I’m gearing up to read A Christmas Carol yet again during the holidays this year.
We must remember that even Sherlock Holmes had and adventure involving a Christmas goose, by the bye, in The Blue Carbuncle. As he tells us in his short preface to his “Ghostly little book,” Dickens wished to pleasantly haunt us with: “the Ghost of an Idea …which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, each other, or with me.”
He has done just that. Mrs. Jeffries and Inspector Witherspoon too have played no small part for many of us in celebrating Christmas in true Dickensian spirit.
Check out other mystery and fantasy related articles, reviews & short stories in our Books & Tales category.
Click on this link to go to Amazon where you can search for and purchase any of these books: