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When Sheila Malloy learns her second cousin, Bernard Malloy, is doing the rounds of the family in order to research the family tree, her first reaction is to think what a bore. Bernard is a pompous self-important windbag. She imagines his retirement as headmaster from a boys’ school must have come as a huge relief to the boys.
Bernard duly arrives with his wife Janet in tow. Janet is a quiet mousy little thing who dutifully acts as note taker as Bernard demands to see all photos and records that Sheila might have. After boring her for several hours with a great deal of detail that Sheila didn’t want to know, the couple depart with Bernard making the threat to return again. However when Bernard is found dead, apparently murdered, Sheila begins to wonder if his research has turned up a family secret that someone wants to remain buried.
Hazel Holt’s Sheila Malloy has been likened to a modern day Miss Marple. There are some similarities. Shelia lives a quiet, unremarkable life in a village where she lives in happy retirement taking part in community activities.
When it comes to amateur detectives, maintaining believability can be a challenge, one that Holt has met quite well. Holt has commendably refrained from allowing her protagonist to be put into ridiculously dangerous situations that blind Freddy could see are ill-advised. Sheila’s investigations are limited to visiting various family members and questioning them about Bernard’s visit.
The plot is fairly simple and straightforward. There are no tricksy twists. No hidden surprises waiting to leap out of the closet. If there is a criticism it is that the details about Sheila’s life is a little too mundane. There are only so many times you can read about Sheila being asked to bake a cake for an afternoon tea and maintain interest. Having said that, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY is a quick, entertaining read which will appeal to those whose crime fiction tastes are on the lighter side
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