Book Review: Martin Edwards – Mortmain Hall

The second of the Rachel Savernake 1930s mystery-thrilers, Martin Edwards’ talent to combine mind-bending, intricate plots with the theatrical flair of a Hollywood drama makes this a pleasure to read

Although it must be said, until the dramatic conclusion of the novel it felt like a less-developed sequel to an author’s opus magnum. The ending pays off, though, and a Golden Age-style cluefinder at the end makes you realise just how many clues you’ve missed at the end.

The book, rather uniquely, opens with the epilogue. It sets up a dramatic tale, with its climax at the reclusive estate of Mortmain Hall, at the very edge of the Yorkshire coast. A man, close to death, is getting begged by Rachel to tell her the truth of what’s going on. But through the game of cat and mouse which ensues through the book, it’s clear that nothing is as it seems.

A famous quote, not sure from who (although I read it in James McAvoy’s voice), declares that it is a “double pleasure to deceive the deceiver”, and this mantra runs through Mortmain Hall’s bloodline. For by the time we reach a fateful dinner party containing the host, Leonora Dobell, and four people who have been accused of (or at least, Leo suspects) committing the perfect murder. It’s an enthralling prospect for a locked-room mystery with all the markings of a great Agatha Christie. Although there’s even a small locked room within a room…

Fans of ‘Gallows Court’ will be pleased to know that all of the main protagonists return for this one. Rachel Savernake is at the centre of unraveling the crime whilst still wrestling with her own tangled past and wearing a fashionable cloak and holding a dagger. Jacob Flint is also back as the crime reporter who seems to have almost become Savernake’s protégé, and another complex character. A discreet journalist? Unheard of! But he develops from a naïve young man from the start of ‘Gallows Court’ to a man who still blunders into chaos at the slightest opportunity yet is able to untangle himself from the web without needing to be helped from it. There’s a situation in a London bedroom which I suspect he wouldn’t have found his way out of in the previous book…

He also has a hint at a romance, as usual from more than one lady flattering her eyelashes at him. But should there be more stories to tell in this universe (and I think the potential is limitless), his relationship with Martha Trueman, Rachel’s maid with severe acid scarring, will be an intriguing one to explore further. The author seems content to bide his time with this one, and should there be a longer arc of five or six books, this is a romance which could well be one of the best-written and most anticipated that I’ve seen in a very long time.

Overall this is an enthralling book, with a long but fulfilling build-up to an exciting conclusion and satisfying pay-off. I didn’t work out the killer (or indeed, who was killed) until the end, and the melodramatic exit from Mortmain Hall puts this one into ‘memorable’ territory. I hope for a third book.

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