Sunday, 19 October 2008

No Cure for Death by Hazel Holt

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.


  1. This sounds like my kind of crime novel. I haven't come across Hazel Holt but I'll be looking out for her books next time I'm in the library. I do like "cosy crime".

    Thanks for your comment on my blog and the link to Heyer's slang words - very useful, although it doesn't include "bamming" which I take to mean "joking" and one or two more. Still as you said it's usually obvious from the context what is meant.

  2. Holt's available from our library, so I should think you will find some. I don't think the order you read them in matters much.

    I suspect that "bamming" might be from "bamboozling" - you're right about the meaning. If there are any you are really stuck on, feel free to email, or to ask here, and I'll do my best.

  3. Holt sounds just the thing for winter evening comfort reading. I quite like the Fethering series for the same reason.

    I agree with your definitions of "bamming" by the way.

  4. Them's my sentiments, too. I only discovered Hazel Holt recently and am pleased there are so many Sheila Malory books still to be read. I also feel at home with the characters in Simon Brett's Fethering series.

  5. I've kept your review in my book ideas folder, and it will be a "friday finds" this week! I think that Nicola Slade recommended this to me in a comment a while back. Your review makes it sound just delightful, and as Juxtabook wrote, I thought of the Fethering women as I read along.

  6. It's so nice to share new authors, isn't it? The Fethering series is new to me, so I am off to seek them out.

    That, as I expect you all guessed, was supposed to be a "nice quiet 2-hour read"! I shall correct.

  7. This is amazing ... first of all, I've just left a comment re the Sheila Malory books on Life Must be Filled up blogspot, and second, I coined the phrase "Queen of the Cosy Crime" when referring to Hazel, who is a lovely lady whom I have interviewed for features for Exmoor Life and Somerset Life. I have read all her books and recommend them to all those of you who love cosy crime. Her son is Tom Holt who writes fantasy novels and who has also written a couple of Mapp & Lucia follow-ups, Lucia in Wartime and Lucia Triumphant.
    Margaret Powling

  8. Margaret, I only knew Hazel Holt as the biographer of Barbara Pym (which I enjoyed very much), but the Sheila Malory books are so-o-o comfortable. I didn't know about Tom Holt being her son, and I hadn't quite put together that he was both the fantasy writer (I've read several of his books) AND the author of the Mapp and Lucia sequels - they were already on my wish-list, but I shall make an even greater effort to find them now. Thanks for pointing it out!