Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
“Two dozen unexplained wreaths over the past year?” When a mysterious undertaker is seen delivering floral funerary wreaths to families of the deceased BEFORE the death occurs, the WISE women spring into action in Ace’s latest cozy mystery. The police won’t touch it with a “bargepole” as the deaths aren’t suspicious. And yet, how can this undertaker know who’s going to die unless he’s been killing them? Meanwhile, using her nursing background, no-nonsense Mavis goes undercover to investigate some Suspicious Sisters, when it’s noted that narcotics belonging to recently deceased patients are disappearing in a certain hospital. A morbid aura shadows the idyllic village of Anwen-by-Wye, in the eighth installment of Ace’s WISE Enquiries series and the bodies pile up.
WISE, by the way, is an acronym for the origins of the four women who’ve teamed up to answer enquiries and solve these bizarre crimes: Carol from Wales, Christine from Ireland, Scottish Mavis, and English Annie. These bizarre crimes can only originate in the unrelenting mind of Cathy Ace. Averaging two books a year, the woman is unstoppable.
The jury’s still out on Ace’s view of the Welsh aristocracy. In this book, more than others, we see the colossal power held by Henry Twyst, the eighth Duke of Chellingworth and his eccentric dowager mother, Althea. By the end of this book, they own it all, and though we applaud their generosity as patrons, the reader can’t help but notice the power imbalance. “At least we keep the village hall looking tidy. Which pleases both Their Graces,” quips one lowly villager. “Indeed, while “Their Graces” quibble over family issues, they continue to generate a rental income from the villagers and more from tours of Chellingworth Hall. Yet, Ace’s satirizing of the octogenarian dowager’s bizarre wardrobe choices, and her daughter Clementine’s plans to wed “at dawn on the summer solstice at the base of Queen Hatshepsut’s obelisk at the temple of Karnak” in Egypt, give us pause. Do I detect a mutinous murmur beneath a witty veneer?
A master of social satire, Ace presents this wry romp, slathered in details, and peppered with Welsh gems. Some favourites? The chief inspector “knew his onions when it came to his job” and “she’ll have my guts for garters.” Or this cringeworthy favourite: “Sugar was better than bile.” Annie’s “Gordon Bennett!” sent me running to Google. Ace’s dialects sparkle, her sensory descriptions wrap you in the best of the season, and her satirizing will make you smile.
Ace’s strength is in writing what she knows and doing so flawlessly. It’s clear she genuinely loves her characters and her birth country as her prose oozes with colloquialisms. Ace emigrated from Swansea, Wales to British Columbia at age forty, and often visits home. A longtime fan of Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, she comes naturally to the cozy murder mystery genre and is a storyteller extraordinaire. Her standalone novel, The Wrong Boy, and her Cait Morgan Mysteries have been optioned for TV by the UK producers Free@LastTV. One can only hope, the WISE Enquiries follow in their wake.
Ace has been country-hopping this year, presenting at events like Gŵyl Crime Cymru (Wales’ first international crime literature festival), Calgary’s When Words Collide, and Boucheron (an annual world mystery convention). Catch her where you can and in the meantime, check out her two long-running cozy mystery series: The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries and Cait Morgan Mysteries.
The Case of the Uninvited Undertaker is published by Four Tails Publishing Ltd.
W. L. Hawkin writes fantastical mysteries and crime novels with Blue Haven Press. Her latest novel, Lure: Jesse & Hawk won a National Indie Excellence Award.