The latest in the Eleanor Swift series of cosy murder investigations has confounded me. Not because I couldn’t work out who had done it. I never expected to and didn’t really try. Rather, it’s because in A Lesson in Murder Verity Bright has given us a crossover – or, more accurately given that the Swift series is a crossover in itself, another crossover. This isn’t Agatha Christie meets Downton (as I believe some people say). This is Agatha Christie meets Malory Towers. It’s very different from previous mysteries. It’s more than worth your time.
We’ve left our stately home again, just as we did for a previous trip to Brighton, but this time the majority of the staff remain behind, with just Clifford and Seldon joining Ellie as the regular cast. A turn of events requires Ellie to join the school staff as a boarding housemistress and we find her subverting outdated traditions and presenting a more modern approach. There are the usual misogynist attitudes ready to be ridiculed. But the interplay with the house staff is replaced by a possibly more interesting set of relationships with the nine year-old girls in Ellie’s boarding house. She inspires them and spoils them and leads them to success because of course she does, but she learns more about herself and about her long-deceased mother along the way.
Now I used to love a good school story. My 10 year-old self spent half his time at Greyfriars with Bunter, Wharton and Quelch, though these days I am more familiar with Hogwarts. So, in the usual way for this blog, as soon as Eleanor and her butler Clifford holed up at Eleanor’s former boarding school, I set about assigning characters to be played by old Potterverse favourites. I reckoned that the late Richard Harris had the range to play headmistress Miss Lonsdale. Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge was clearly the odious Mrs Coulson. Julie Walters as Acorn Antiques’ Mrs Overall could be Mrs Wadsworth. Yes, Acorn Antiques isn’t Harry Potter. This is a crossover. Do keep up. For good measure we’ll cast Miriam Margolyes though we don’t know as whom. And we need both Maggie Smith and Geraldine McEwan to play Jean Brodie. Jean Brodie isn’t actually in this book, which may assist with our actors’ schedules.
I’ve always enjoyed doing the more surreal parts of reviews for this series. But you don’t really have to have read the book to cast non-existent Brodies. And as I got further into the book I felt that my enjoyment was going in a different direction. The tone is just the right side of sentimental, the relationship between Ellie and Seldon is going well enough for me to be no longer worried that the appalling Lord Goggles is going to make a comeback in a future instalment and the mystery is pretty absorbing. In short, this was my favourite of the series so far. It’s not that I don’t want ever to go back to Henley Hall. But Eleanor Swift is adaptable enough to thrive outside its gates. Just as long as Clifford and bulldog Gladstone are there to accompany her.
Thanks to Bookouture for the review copy and to Sarah Hardy for the invitation to be part of the blog tour.