Christmas Calamity at the Vicarage (2019) by Emily Organ

Today’s festive read was gifted to me and is a Christmas novella for the currently six book long Churchill and Pemberley series.

Synopsis

‘The Vicarage Christmas Party has gone horribly wrong. The mince pies have been finished off. And so has the village choirmaster. Senior sleuths Churchill and Pemberley are enjoying sherry and festive cheer at Compton Poppleford’s big event of the season, but their fun is ruined when the choirmaster is found dead in the parlour. Which of the vicar’s guests could possibly commit murder at Christmas time? With everyone detained at the vicarage, Churchill and Pemberley find themselves in all the wrong places at all the wrong times. Their wayward, four-legged assistant isn’t helping matters either. Inspector Mappin is certain they’re his suspects and the vicar is convinced too. How can the two old ladies prove their innocence? With the net closing in, the detective duo must find the culprit to avoid spending Christmas in Compton Poppleford’s police cells.’

Overall Thoughts

This is a series I was completely new to you, so I was very much jumping in at the deep end with this read. Consequently, I felt like there was a lot of background information I was missing: How did the two sleuthing protagonists meet? How did they get into sleuthing? Why do they only refer to each other by their surnames? As such I think it took me a while to orientate myself.

One of my first impressions of reading this book was finding the dialogue too arch and artificial, at times, and therefore I think some of the intended humour of the story came across as forced. For example, in the opening chapter we have this conversation between Mrs Churchill and Pemberley:

“You need a thicker coat,” replied Churchill. “There isn’t enough meat on your bones for this sort of weather. I, on the other hand, find myself naturally blessed with a little extra coverage.”

“A drop of sherry will warm me up.”

“I’m sure it will. That mince pie mountain will help me as well. Pembers, I feel quite certain it’ll cure me of all my ills.”

“You can’t eat the mountain single-handedly.”

Another example was after the discovery of the murdered man and the resulting panicky conversation, for me at least, came across as awkward:

“What if he murders someone else?” a lady with scarlet lipstick and buck teeth cried.

“I should think that’s very unlikely,” replied the vicar, “and even if he did, he’d have to find another murder weapon because the original one remains embedded in Mr Donkin’s back.”

Several gasps of shock could be heard around the room.

“What about a piece of lead piping?” a man with mutton-chop whiskers called out. “He could use that!”

“Or how about a candlestick?” suggested the lady with buck teeth.

“Do you have any loose pipes, Vicar?” asked the whiskered man.

“No I don’t, and stop giving the chap ideas,” replied the vicar. “If the killer is still hiding in our midst, he’ll hear your suggestions for alternative murder weapons! The next thing we know he’ll be looking for lead pipes or candlesticks lying around so he can continue his murder quest.”

I realise this type of mystery is not aiming for realism or verisimilitude and that cosy crime does have an aura of artificiality about it, but I don’t think that means the characters can’t be more life-like in their dialogue.

This was not a problem in every section though, and the style grows on you a little, such as when Churchill and Pemberley discuss the planned activities for the vicarage Christmas party. Mrs Churchill very much has mince pies at the top of her agenda and her increasing desperation for food at the event holds the succession of incidences together well and even precipitates certain interactions with other guests. Some of this humour landed more successfully, such as this line snippet of conversation between the protagonists:

“Why don’t you ask Mr Donkin where he got his from?”

“Oh, I intend to, but I’ll have to wait until he’s stopped writhing around like a tadpole first. Must he move his hips like that to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen? It’s bordering on the obscene.”

These two are the type of sleuths who cause chaos and problems, even before a murder is committed and I was put in mind of L. C. Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred series. Fallibility is definitely an element of the detective work that goes on, private and police-led alike. Whilst Mrs Churchill can come across as a bit childish when she becomes hangry and does not seem to be much of a theoriser when it comes to sleuthing, it is still she who uncovers the real culprit of the murder.

I would describe this mystery as being the ‘Kitchen Sink’ type, i.e. one which throws a lot of mystery fiction tropes into its narrative. For me, I felt there were too many in the novella, and consequently, I didn’t think they were as well utilised as they could have been. This has an impact on the final solution. This is a case where the protagonists stumble onto information, rather than follow a structured investigation. Whilst they don’t uncover all that much, they do encounter the many tropes included, so from that the reader will be able to solve the crime with leaps of imagination and knowledge of genre tropes, as they follow a well-trodden path.

This is a very quick and light read, which I think would perhaps be read more for the characters than for the plotting and may be of greater interest to those who have read other full-length stories in the series.

Rating: 3.25/5

2 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, and it sounds like this might be one I shouldn’t rush to read. 😅 I think I have one or two titles from a different series by the same author on my Kindle… They seem to be serious, intense mysteries set in Victorian England. Perhaps the author might be dabbling with different styles in different series? 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

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