There was a low murmur of conversation, but then I heard Alec McDonald's voice rising and saying, "It's quite impossible! I've spoken to him about it and told him it's the very last thing the practice needs just now." His voice dropped again and, as I was straining to hear more, Sandra came and called me in to see Mr Wheeler.Yesterday I was in need of a bit of comfort reading, and when I encountered the above paragraph on page 6 I knew I'd come to the right place. Hazel Holt has been described as the Queen of Cosy Crime, a title which sums up her novels perfectly. Sheila Malory is a retired academic living in the seaside town of Taviscombe (based on Minehead, in Somerset). In none of her books is there a great deal of "sleuthing", but there are lots of cups of tea and a great deal of gossip, some of which offers up the odd red herring, but which ultimately leads to the solution to the crime. Taviscombe is one of those towns where everybody knows everyone else's business, but they all get fed up with the influx of tourists at the beginning of the season.
For a woman of my age, at least, Sheila is easy to identify with – her immediate concerns are about her animals (dog and demanding cat), her son and his family, her friends. She is a practical woman, if easily put-upon by the dreadful Anthea, who always needs a cohort of (unwilling) helpers for coffee mornings, and has that curiousity about complete strangers which seems to come more easily with age – there's definitely more in common with the old-fashioned Miss Marple than with Sheila's closer contemporary, Isabel Dalhousie. Frankly, I think Sheila would find Isabel pleasant but perhaps a bit too earnest, too nicely scrupulous. Not that Sheila isn't scrupulous herself, but her more practical nature allows her to deal with it with less anguish. Reading this book you are always aware that this is a sensible woman.
Returning to the quote with which I began, it was the line "straining to hear more" which particularly pleased me – you know you're in Marple-territory with a line like that. Later there is a digression while Sheila describes a visit to the Theatre Royal at Bath, one of my own favourite – if rare – excursions. My only complaint about this, or any other of the series, is that they are only two cups of tea's worth - I finished this the same afternoon and was left hunting for a substitute. But, if you want a nice quite 2-hour read, I do recommend them – oh, and you'll want a nice biscuit, too, a Bath Oliver perhaps.