Murder at the Mansion: is enjoyable because it doesn’t include stale elements

Murder at the Mansion (Vietnamese name: AM SAT TINH DICH), the first Victorian Village Mystery, is evidence of Sheila Connolly’s expertise. It’s obvious she knows her way around a Victorian house, and knows the way to research history.

It’s also obvious this isn’t Connolly’s first cozy mystery. She avoids some of the most irritating tropes that are often repeated in the first book in a series. Murder at the Mansion is all the more enjoyable because it doesn’t include stale elements.

Katherine Hamilton was successful in her hospitality job at a Baltimore boutique hotel, but a foreign conglomerate bought the hotel. Now, she’s out of a job, but she does have a very lucrative severance package. When her best friend from high school comes calling, Kate can afford to listen.

Lisbeth still lives in Asheboro, Maryland, and the town’s in trouble.

The small town of around 1,000 bought the old Barton house. Now, after a storm, they don’t have the money to repair businesses or the Barton place. Lisbeth has been authorized to ask Kate to look at the town. Does she have any ideas to help? She doesn’t tell Kate, though, that her old nemesis, Cordelia Walker, is on the town council. And, Cordelia has ambitious plans of her own.

It’s been years since Kate really looked at Asheboro. Now, she sees a town with little history and little future. But the Barton house is another matter. She falls in love with the Victorian house, and she’s interested in learning its story from Josh Wainwright, a history professor and caretaker for the property. Is the house the key to saving Asheboro?

Maybe. But, first Kate has to save herself. She and Josh are leaving the house when they find Cordelia’s murdered body on the stoop. Kate has a couple good reasons to want the woman dead. It turns out, though, that most people in town feared and hated Cordelia. Now, Kate has to stay out of the way of a killer while she pours over research material in order to save her hometown.

I enjoyed Sheila Connolly’s Murder at the Mansion for all the things she doesn’t do.

Her character didn’t leave her job under a cloud. She didn’t catch a lover cheating. She doesn’t immediately return home and become torn between two men as she decides who she loves. Instead, Kate Hamilton is a business person who takes a professional view of the town’s request. She researches the house and the town. She’s aware of her lack of skills and expertise as a detective. She turns to a professional for help when she needs it.

There’s a strong sense of place in Murder at the Mansion, and I can already tell it will only grow more atmospheric as the series goes on. The historical elements are fascinating. Fans of Connolly’s Museum mysteries will enjoy the appearance of Nell Pratt from that series. The first in Sheila Connolly’s new series is just right.

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