I only discovered Hazel Holt’s Mrs Malory mysteries a couple of years ago and immediately became frustrated. Libraries keep books for a very short time these days, so I could only borrow the most recent titles. Second hand copies are very expensive (there must be a large secret fan base) and I’ve never seen one in a charity shop or SHBS. Then last Saturday I had a piece of luck. A dealer in paperback books at the market is happy to look out for books for customers. ‘Who was it you wanted? Hazel Holt? I’ve got one.’ I determined to buy it, even if it was one I’d read, because these books are keepers. I handed over a pound for a rather tatty paperback and went away feeling pleased. Imagine my delight when I got home to find that Gone Away is the very first book in the series!
You can enjoy the Sheila Malory books whichever one you choose to dive into but it was a treat to meet all the characters for the first time. Mrs Malory has only been widowed for two years, so there’s a lot more about her husband Peter than in the later books. Son Michael is still at Oxford; friend Rosemary’s daughter Jilly hasn’t yet married Roger, her nice policeman; ‘old Mrs Dudley’, Rosemary’s mother, starts as she means to go on: unpleasantly. The whole Taviscombe set-up is there, ready to be developed. Sheila begins her productive co-operation with Roger and those important characters Foss and Tris, rule her life (they are very long-lived for pets, thank goodness).
This book is full of the details that have made me enjoy the series so much. One is Sheila Malory’s love of Charlotte M Yonge, which I share:
my mind began churning about again, so I took up my familiar, blue-bound copy of Pillars of the House and lost myself, at last, in the myriad complexities of the Underwood family, until the small print caused my eyes to close and I finally fell asleep.
The very same edition most of us will have! The books work because Mrs Malory, although Oxford-educated and ‘literary’ (she writes) lives in the place where she was brought up, as do many of her old friends. They form an unwitting spy network and it even helps to have had the same milkman for many years. There are just two problems with these books: they’re too short and there aren’t enough of them.