In The Spotlight: Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall

>In the Spotlight: Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Missing ServantHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. For many readers, there’s nothing quite like the English ‘country house’ mystery. Of course these days, people don’t generally live the way they did during the Golden Age years of crime writing. So modern-day ‘country house’ mysteries have to have a more contemporary feel to them if they’re going to be realistic. Let’s take a look today at how that’s accomplished. Let’s turn the spotlight on Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall.

Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford is the star of a TV series Fakes & Treasures, but has decided to quit the show and get out of the public eye and away from media scrutiny of everything she does. Her plan is to go into the antique business with her mother Iris, who’s starting life over again after being widowed. But a telephone call from Iris changes everything.

Iris tells Kat that she’s decided not to go into business and instead, has bought the carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall in Little Dipperton, Devon. Kat’s shocked at this sudden change of plans and concerned about her mother. So she drives to Devon to find out for herself whether her mother’s all right. When she gets there she finds that the carriage house is in sad need of repairs, and that her mother has broken one of her hands in a car accident. So she decides to stay and look after things until her mother’s hand is healed.

Soon enough, Kat gets to know some of the locals. First, there’s the rather eccentric Honeychurch family itself. Currently headed by the very unusual Lady Edith, the Honeychurches have, as many ‘country families’ do, a long history. At the moment, Lady Edith and her son Rupert live in Honeychurch Hall with Rupert’s wife Lavinia and their son Harry. There’s also the butler Cropper and the housekeeper Vera Pugsley, as well as Harry’s Russian nanny Gayla Tarasova. There are other local residents too.

Then, some strange things begin happening. For one thing, Kat discovers that someone is sabotaging her mother’s attempts to settle into her new home. And then there’s the matter of a unique and valuable antique snuff box – one of a collection belonging to Lady Edith – that’s stolen. Then, Gayla disappears. Not long afterwards, Vera Pugsley is found dead.

Cropper’s grandson DI Shawn Cropper investigates the disappearance and murder. But Kat’s worried about Iris, so she asks her own questions. And the more she discovers, the more she learns how little she really knows about her mother. Bit by bit, and each in a different way, Kat and Shawn work to find out what really happened to Gayla and who killed Vera and why. It turns out that the history of the Honeychurch family and Honeychurch Hall plays an important role in the case.

One of the important elements in this novel is the setting. Honeychurch Hall is a traditional large country estate that’s partly maintained, partly sold off, and full of history. Since Little Dipperton is not exactly a bustling metropolis, the novel also has a sense of small town ‘country’ life. Everyone knows everyone, and the history of all of the local families is common property. People such as Kat Stanford are regarded as ‘outsiders,’ so it takes a bit of time for her to get to know that history.

Along with the setting, there are several characters who play important roles in the novel. First of course are Kat and Iris. Kat, from whose point of view the story is told, is at a bit of a crossroads in her life. She’s tired of constantly being the target of the media, and eager for the change that going full-time into the antiques business offers. She’s in a relationship with David Wynne, who’s married, and getting a little tired of waiting for him to sort out his life. And yet, you couldn’t really call her self-pitying. Readers who dislike self-obsessed, heavy-drinking sleuths will be pleased. Iris isn’t particularly self-pitying either. She’s grieving the loss of her husband (and Kat’s father) Frank, but moving on with her life. One of the sub-plots of this novel is the way Kat and Iris have to re-negotiate their relationship. Iris has to accept the fact that Kat is very much her own person. For her part, Kat learns all kinds of things about her mother that she never knew. So she has to change her conception of her mother.

That said though, this isn’t a ‘family drama.’ The mystery itself – who killed Vera and what happened to Gayla – is the main plot point of the novel. And Kat and Shawn find out the truth in a plausible way. There’s an undercurrent of suspense too as it becomes clear that someone local is not what it seems on the surface.

The novel isn’t a bleak, dark read though. There is plenty of wit, both in the characters’ personalities and in some events that happen. For instance, several exchanges between Kat and her mother are full of the frustration – and humour – of real life interactions between adult children and their parents. And some of the characters are just eccentric enough to add wit to the story. For instance, the youngest Honeychurch – Harry – is obsessed with a WWI hero named James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth. He spends quite a lot of time living out what he sees as his hero’s life, and some of the scenes involving him are funny. Then there’s the sort of ‘culture clash’ as Kat makes the adjustment from London life to the country.

Murder at Honeychurch Hall is a ‘country’ house’ mystery with all of the trappings of the modern age (including Google and GPS navigation). It connects the past history of the place and some of the characters with the present mystery, and features a TV presenter who had no idea what she was getting into when she decided to step in and help her mother. But what’s your view? Have you read Murder at Honeychurch Hall? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 6 October/Tuesday 7 October – Ice Run – Steve Hamilton

Monday 13 October/Tuesday 14 October – Bitter River – Julia Keller

Monday 20 October/Tuesday 21 October – Night Has a Thousand Eyes – Cornell Woolrich


Filed under Hannah Dennison, Murder at Honeychurch Hall

34 responses to “In The Spotlight: Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall

  1. You introduce us to such a wide range of authors and books in these posts Margot – this sounds like the perfect modern day country house murder mystery and yet again one I had never heard of before. Thank you!

    • Cleo – I’m so glad you like this feature. If you do enjoy ‘country house’ kinds of mysteries, I think this is a good ‘un. Lots of wit, but not so funny as to minimise some of the things happening in the novel. I hope you’ll enjoy this if you try it.

  2. Sounds interesting, Margot. I may have to look this one up – especially as the author will be at Bouchercon in November. Your review, and some author quotes at Amazon, sound as if the book would be a lot of fun.

    • Les – I think it is fun. As a devotee of classic mysteries, I think you’d appreciate the atmosphere and some of the characters, although everything’s 21st Century. If you do read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  3. Sounds like a fun read! Is that the fictional Biggles – ace fighter pilot and all round awfully good chap? If so, I had a bit of a fixation on him myself in my youth! In fact, I vividly remember doing Biggles’ impersonations the first time I was on an aeroplane, to the amusement of the ancient man in the next seat (he was probably about 50 but he seemed ancient to me at the time). “Chocks away, Ginger!” Wizard stuff! 😉

    • FictionFan – It is a fun read, actually, but not, at least in my opinion, twee or ‘frothy.’ And yes, indeed, that’s the very same James Bigglesworth you remember from your youth. And now you’ve given me a lovely mental image of the young FF impersonating Biggles on your first flight. Love it! I have to admit I didn’t have access to the Biggles stories as a child – quite deprived. But they do sound like a lot of fun.

      • Haha! I wish I could pretend I was 10 at the time – but I think I was actually 21! 😀 Great books – I think some of them might be being reissued at the moment. One or two appeared on NetGalley recently.

        • 😆 Age is nothing but a number, FictionFan! And it’s good to hear some of those Biggles books are being reissued. I’ll have to look out for them and see what I missed in my misspent youth.

  4. Clarissa Draper

    I love to learn about new authors. The book seems to have a good plot, wit and great characters. Thanks for the review.

    • Clarissa – I know what you mean.; I love discovering new books and authors too. Now admittedly that doesn’t mean I’ll always get to them *sigh,* but I do like hearing about them. If you get the chance to read this book, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  5. I love country house mysteries and the family relationships could be interesting. Sounds worth a try.

    • Tracy – The ‘country house’ part is done well, and there really are some terrifically eccentric characters. Solid sense of the Devon country too, and yes, the relationships are interesting. If you do read it, I hope you’ll like it.

  6. Col

    Margot, I’ve never heard of either book or author so thanks. Probably not for me though.

  7. Another intriguing book I need to add to my ever growing list of TBR books. Thanks for the introduction, Margot.

  8. Sounds like just the kind of book I would love to read. Quirky characters, an English manor house, humour, what more could a person ask for?

    Thank you for the review.

    Incidentally, my uncle is addicted to Biggles too- almost to the point of obsession!

    • Natasha – Ah, I see that Biggles has a worldwide fan base! I really hope you’ll enjoy this novel if you read it. There is a solid wit in it, but it’s not ‘played for laughs,’ as the saying goes. And there are some terrific quirky characters. Solid sense of the Devon location too.

  9. This does sound like fun, thanks Margot – I’m not one that reads much in the way of modern cosies (or ‘cozies’) outside of the GAD timeframe – but I am always glad to read a book that is not too bleak!

    • Sergio – And this one really isn’t bleak. It is an interesting take on the traditional GAD ‘country house’ context, too. I’ll be interested in what you think of it if you try it.

  10. What a summary: a country house mystery with Google and GPS navigation! Very appropriate timing, as well, the week that the last of the Mitford sisters (speaking of grand country houses and landed gentry families) passed away. Are such families verging on obsolescence nowadays or (as the success of Downton Abbey and Royal Weddings demonstrate) are we all still hankering for such trappings of the past? So I quite enjoy a fresh, modern take on all this. Sounds like an enjoyable reading, thank you for introducing us yet again to something new and different!

    • Marina Sofia – Oh, that’s an interesting question about our interest in those ‘landed gentry’ families! I think there is a real fascination with them, and series such as Downton Abbey are great examples of that!. This novel is indeed a modern take on an old family and an old (but really, not decrepit) house. I also think it’s an interesting look at life in a place where many of the local families have roots many generations in the past.

  11. Thank you for another great and fully comprehensive Spotlight Margot. It sounds like an interesting and fun crime novel for those times when you’re in need of something a little lighter.

    • Rebecca – Thanks for the kind words; glad you liked the spotlight. And you’ve captured the novel neatly; it’s an actual crime story, but it’s liter and I think a good choice when you need a break from the bleaker, heavier novels.

  12. You have such a wide range of reading Margot, we don’t know how you do it! I like the sound of this one – just the title was enough to draw me in, and I love the idea of a modern update on the traditional country house mystery. On the list it goes…

    • Moira – I think you might like this one. It’s got a solid wit, a ‘country house’ murder and some interesting characters. Oh, and did I mention the Christian Louboutin boots? Complete with red soles…

  13. Sounds a fun and interesting read. Another for the pile. Oh, and Biggles was a childhood favourite of mine too. So many ‘girls’ I know read Biggles.

    • Jane – Oh, that’s so great that you remember Biggles! I absolutely must remedy my sadly deprived Biggles-less childhood, that much is clear. And as for the novel, it does have a sense of fun about it, but at the same time it’s not a ‘frothy romp.’ There’s murder and danger and I don’t think Dennison makes light of that.

      • Oh do take a peak at Biggles. Adventure – for girls who were supposed to be ladies (the way I grew up) it was wonderful. I didn’t mean Dennison’s book would be funny haha, so much as fun (enjoyable a better word) to read – sorry, this weird language of ours. 🙂

  14. Your fine review has got me very interested in the book, Margot. Thanks.

    Hate to sound like a party-pooper but Biggles never did appeal much to me.

  15. Cozies are not for me (I have to have something a little darker with my mysteries), but I always like learning a little something about new authors.

    • Kelly – Let’s face it; no book or sub-genre is really for everyone. But as you say, it’s always nice to know about the authors out there and what they’re doing.

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