Posted on Feb 11, 2006 in Fiction

by Elizabeth Ironside
Felony & Mayhem, 1995

I love murder mysteries set in England. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James and now for me, a new author — Elizabeeth Ironside.

Her mystery novel Death in the Garden was mentioned by a woman on NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.” Terry was doing one of her end of the year shows where she asks people to name the ten best movies or in this case, the ten best books read in 2005.

At the time I thought all the books mentioned were new books, but as it turns out Death in the Garden has been out since 1995. Intriguingly, Elizabeth Ironside is the pseudonym of Lady Catherine Manning, wife of the current British Ambassador to the U.S.

This is a really clever mystery. In the very first chapter we enter the thoughts of a woman, a defendant in a murder trial, waiting to hear whether she will be found innocent and thus live or found guilty and sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead.”

In the next section, consisting of four chapters, a memorable collection of characters gathers at an English countryside estate, shortly after World War II. They have come to celebrate the birthday of their mutual friend, Diana. And their connection to her and to each other is revealed in small vignettes that draw the story into more complex waters.

Section three, entitled “The Death,” is not the death of a murder victim, (which by then, you have already encountered) but another death altogether. You will puzzle a bit about which decade you have entered, but a few clues about everyday life will soon place you.

From there, the author leads us back and forth in time as part of an investigation whose aim is to either confirm or belie the judgment of an earlier jury in an earlier courtroom.

I will say no more — except that the novel was deliciously satisfying. And that I am disappointed to learn there are, as yet, no new novels by Ms. Manning. Nor is her first novel (Very Private Enterprise, 1985) available even through the Barnes and Noble used book services!

So savor this one — and if you too are a fan or English mysteries, tell me of some of your finds!