I’m not sure what it says about me when I proclaim cozy mysteries as one of my favourite genres to read. Apparently I love murder, but only when it happens to the bad guys. And I love it even more when a kind, unlikely community member is the one who investigates and solves these murders. The Merry Widow Murders by Melodie Campbell is yet another example of a cozy mystery that engages and delights in all in the ways I listed above. Campbell is a new-to-me author, but based on her bio, it looks as though she’s been writing for quite awhile now. I’m hoping this new series will elevate her status as an author even further.

Plot Summary

It’s 1928, and Lucy is making a transatlantic crossing on a new, grand ship, with only her maid Elf and a male friend named Tony as traveling companions. Lucy is a widow, but has inherited quite a bit of money from her deceased husband. Prior to meeting him, she was escaping a dangerous life in Canada, as her family are well-known mobsters who had also amassed quite a bit of wealth. Lucy is still fairly young, attractive, and incredibly rich, so there are no shortage of suitors who approach her throughout the sailing, including Tony. But the pleasant seascape is interrupted by the discovery of a body in Lucy’s suite the first evening they set sail from New York. Always fearful of her mobster connections coming back to haunt her, she decides to dispose of the body through the porthole, with Elf’s help. Unfortunately, it’s a foggy night and she doesn’t realize the body will land right in a lifeboat, ready to be discovered the next morning. To complicate things even further, she discovers a man on the ship who has knowledge of her hidden family secrets, and because of the proximity of her porthole to the lifeboat, she immediately becomes a suspect in this anonymous man’s murder. Eager to clear her own name and bring the true murderer to justice, Lucy uses her killer instincts from her childhood to track down the criminal on board.

My Thoughts

For the first in a series this novel is incredibly efficient in introducing us to a group of characters that we are sure to see more of in the future. Many first installments in a series spend a great deal of time laying out the protagonist and their background. Lucy has a complicated past, but nothing is dragged out in great detail, in fact, a few secrets are left to the very last page of the book, which is something you don’t often see, but I appreciated it nonetheless. The murder comes fast and furious at the beginning, so through Lucy’s investigations we gradually learn about the time period and her social circle – none of this ‘waiting to get to the good stuff’ here, it’s revealed within a perfect tempo.

The ship as a setting works well; when a murder is committed while out at sea, it immediately narrows down the list of suspects to everyone currently on board, while simultaneously adding the perfect amount of suspense. Despite these dangers, the tone is considerably light. Lucy’s ‘maid’ Elf was one a pick-pocket, and doesn’t fit the current job description well, but her devilish attitude and saucy comebacks make for humorous dialogue, which complements the adventurous but subdued attitude of Lucy nicely.

Grief is a major theme; Lucy’s husband died four years ago, but she struggles with the memories they had together. The lasting negative influences of WWI are also evident in many of the men Lucy meets, and I appreciated the insight this book offered into how people discussed the war and its lingering impact on their psyche. The historical elements of the story are well-researched and bring the characters and setting alive on the page; from the décor of the ship to the fashions and dialogue, it’s clear Campbell took care and attention to ensure as much accuracy as possible. Lucy enjoys a certain amount of freedom as a widow and she is well-aware of how lucky she is compared to many other women in her social circles; there are many comparisons between the American way, and the British way, which I also found fascinating to read about.

In addition to the believable mystery and entertaining assortment of suspects, there is a minor romantic storyline that runs throughout. These massive ships will often seem like a world unto themselves and this book does a wonderful job of keeping readers immersed in a world they won’t want to leave.

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