Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Murder Goes Mumming: Alisa Craig

Charlotte MacLeod is a mystery author known for her unconventional characters and outrageous plots. Rest You Merry, published in 1979, was her first mystery novel. It was followed by nine more in the Peter Shandy series, ending in 1996. While she was writing that series, she had three other series going. The Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series was also published under her own name. Under the pseudonym of Alisa Craig she wrote two series set in Canada: the Grub and Stakers series and a series featuring Detective Inspector Madoc Rhys of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


The first book in the Madoc Rhys series is A Pint of Murder, published in 1980. In that book Madoc meets Janet Wadman, and there is an immediate attraction between them. Murder Goes Mumming is the second book in the series and follows up on that relationship. Madoc is a Royal Canadian Mountie, and he is visiting Fredericton, New Brunswick where Janet works and lives in a boarding house. This book has the fastest engagement ever, with Madoc's mother, Lady Rhys, practically pushing an heirloom ring on them to seal the deal. (Not that I have anything against relationships that move along quickly; if you know you have found a good thing, why not go for it?) Madoc is the black sheep in a family of talented musicians.

This is my first Christmas mystery of the season. The couple is invited to spend Christmas with acquaintances of Lady Rhys, Donald and Babs Condrycke, at the family estate, Graylings. It doesn't hurt that Donald is a board member at the company where Janet is a stenographer. And of course Madoc, Janet, and the huge Condrycke clan all get snowed in. So this is a traditional country house mystery, very much on the cozy side, with lots of humor and some very unusual characters.

In the first mystery in the series, Madoc is sent undercover to investigate a suspicious death. In this one, he is in undercover in the sense that he does not announce that he makes his living in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Condryckes assume he has some unspecified research position in the government. When an elderly member of the family dies, only Madoc suspects that the death was not natural. Since a doctor cannot be called in and they cannot get out to report the death, he proceeds to do as much investigating as he can without alerting the others to the situation.

This is a fun story. I have always wondered what mumming is, and now I know at least one version of it. In this case the costumed group did not visit neighbors, but just traipsed and danced around the big house and partied.

One drawback is that most of the members of the Condrycke family are coarse, self-centered, and unlikable. It is hard to care who did what or why if no one is likable. (We never meet the victim, Granny Condrycke.) Janet and Madoc are really the only likable characters, and they are almost too good to be true. There is a very interesting Welsh butler, Ludovic.

As far as the solution to the mystery goes, it is sort of slapdash, and the explanation is long and involved. But really in this type of story, solving the mystery is not so important and I was mostly enjoying the author's wit and satire.

I will admit that I was drawn to this book because of its wonderful cover, which my husband discovered and pointed out to me.

In December of 2014, I read and reviewed MacLeod's first mystery, Rest You Merry, which also is set at Christmas.

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Publisher:   Doubleday Books, 1981 
Length:       180 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Madoc Rhys, #2
Setting:       New Brunswick, Canada
Genre:        Cozy Mystery
Source:       I purchased this book.

15 comments:

  1. It is a good cover, Tracy. I haven't read any of her books, but I like the aspect of humor in this series. Merry Christmas!

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    1. If you ever run into any of MacLeod's books, I think you would like them, Peggy. Merry Christmas to you too!

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  2. Mumming is an important part of Philadelphia's culture, Tracy, so I'm familiar with it, and that aspect of this novel interests me. Have you ever seen the film The Music Man, starring Robert Preston in the title role? In the song, Seventy-Six Trombones, he actually does a marching routine that comes from mumming.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that information, Margot. The little bit of research I did last night did talk about a big parade in Philadelphia. My husband was familiar with the mumming in Philadelphia also. We have seen The Music Man many times, it is a lot of fun. Now I will have to watch it again soon.

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  3. I might just skip this one Tracy, if it's OK with you ... :)

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    1. I will give you a pass on this one, Sergio. There were parts of this I liked and parts I did not, but you have to be in the mood for it.

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  4. I tried to read a Charlotte MacLeod mystery which was a dirt cheap edition on my Kindle and just couldn't get through it. Not at all. It was called THE GRUB AND STAKERS QUILT-A-BEE. And mind you, I like cozies. However, I do like country house mysteries...so I might give this one a try. (If it shows up for 99 cents on Kindle.)

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    1. I have not tried The Grub and Stakers series, Yvette, but I think the Peter Shandy mysteries and the Sarah Kelling mysteries are better examples of her work. However, I do think all of her books have a different kind of humor and are outlandish stories. If you did not like Grub and Stakers, this one might not do it for you either, but like you said, if you can find it cheap...

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  5. Not my cup of Earl Grey, Tracy, despite your inviting review. What put me off at the get-go was learning how prolific she is (was). My skin actually took on a green tint as the bile of envy coursed thru my veins.

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    1. She did write a lot of books during a twenty year span (approximately), Mathew. This is the kind of book I can read occasionally and enjoy, but don't want a steady diet of. (I did enjoy the two series set in the US somewhere in the 1980s.)

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  6. Tracy, inspired by Moira, I plan to read a Christmas story or book over the next few days, though just not this one. Perhaps, something less than 180 pages. I can't say I've heard of Charlotte MacLeod though the name sounds familiar.

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    1. I also plan to read some short stories with a Christmas theme, Prashant, and I just started reading a book by Bill Crider set at Christmas. That one is around 160 pages and I am getting through it fast. A lot of fun.

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  7. That's a great cover Tracy, even apart from your collection. Some of your description sounds quite off-putting, and I have had mixed experiences with McLeod, but the central setting sounds wonderful. I have just gone and watched the clip from the Music Man as mentioned by Margot, and am very intrigued!

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    1. I know, Moira, I love that cover and I thank Glen for spotting it. The paperback cover is quite nice too, I only saw it recently and I hope I find it some day. People in costumes and masks, very colorful, with a skeleton hand on the cover. All of the paperback covers for the series have skeleton hands.

      We are going to have to watch The Music Man again soon, that is one of the musicals we used to watch fairly frequently, but now it has been a while.

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