A Trace of Poison by Colleen Cambridge

A Trace of Poison (Phyllida Bright Mystery, #2)Barbara’s rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Series: Phyllida Bright Mystery
Publication Date: 10/25/22
Period: 1930s Listleigh, England
Number of Pages: 304

I am always on the lookout for a new ‘favorite’ historical mystery series and author, and though I rarely read the fan fiction types of books, I thought I’d give this one a try. I did not read the first book in the series, but I don’t feel as if I missed anything that this book didn’t fill in for me – nor did this one enthuse me to go back and read that first book.

Mrs. Phyllida Bright is housekeeper to the famous author Agatha Christi and her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan. Agatha and Phyllida became best friends during the war and they remain so. Phillida is perceptive, and exacting, and expects those who report to her to be efficient with their tasks and exacting with their personal grooming. She sets high standards and expects them to be followed to the letter.

The local Catholic church, St. Wendreda, supports an orphanage that happens to need a new roof. So, it was decided that a Murder Fete would be held and that the local Listleigh Murder Club members (they are amateur murder fiction writers) would each write and submit a short story to be judged by the members of The Detection Club (that really existed as did the members). The author of the winning entry would be published in both England and America and they would also get an agent. Those are very valuable prizes to would-be professional writers.

On the first evening of the Fete, there is a murder and as the Fete goes on, there are more murders and attempted murders – not to mention thefts. Everyone (including Phyllida) knows it is up to Phyllida to solve the crime. The police, Constable Greensticks and Detective Cork are both bumbling idiots that Phyllida looks down her nose at, so they cannot be trusted to solve the murder. Yes, it has to be Phyllida.

While continuing to manage the Fete and run her household with ease and efficiency, Phyllida investigates the crimes. Everyone is hiding some secret or another. Are those secrets pertinent to the crime or are they just embarrassing bits of information they don’t want to share?

There are so many characters and references to popular murder mysteries of that period that you’ll need a pen and paper to keep up with them. The author does provide a ‘Cast of Characters’ section at the front of the book to help you keep up, and I believe it is multiple pages long. I believe the author is trying to write in the style of those early mystery writers without directly copying them and, to me, it was just too much, too many twists, too many out-of-left-field things happening, and the end was a major leap of – logic??? For me, the story gets bogged down in so much minutia that it just almost comes to a halt. I believe the author could present the same general story with many fewer words and have a much more readable story.

I just could not come to like Phyllida. I know I was supposed to like her, but try as I might, I just couldn’t. I thought she was condescending, aloof, and a bigger snob than her ‘betters’. Some of my favorite parts are when the driver, Bradford, gets the better of her. Frankly, I was rooting for him to solve the mystery and leave Phyllida in the dust. I wouldn’t mind knowing more about Phyllida and Bradford because the author keeps hinting that there is more to them than we are privy to know. I’m not sure I’m interested enough to find out by reading the next book though. I’ll have to think about that for a while. Should you choose to read the book, I hope you’ll love it. It just wasn’t the style of book I enjoy.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Avid reader/reviewer of historical romance and historical mysteries.

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