Marriage Can be Murder – Emma Jameson

Historical fiction. Cozy mystery. Multiple character perspectives.  Murder.  Witchcraft.  Ghosts.  Blackmail. Nazi plots. Chick lit style attractions. This book has EVERYTHING.

I did not expect much from my free Google Play download.  I assumed I was going to get a mess, something self published without professional editing.  This was not necessarily a deterrent, but I tried to keep a realistic state of mind when I started reading.

You guys.  It was hard to stop reading.  From the first page, we’re thrown into a world where a young doctor is forced to move across country to practice in the small town where his unfaithful wife grew up.  He’s not sure if his marriage will survive, and war is imminent.  Within minutes of arriving in Birdwing, he and his wife are struck down by a vehicle, driving with its lights off due to the enforced blackout.  This happens in the first chapter.

Of course we learn that this is no accident.  Dr. Ben Bones is injured to the point where he’s able to pretend that he’s mourning his wife Penny, who was killed in the crash.  The reality is that he’s relieved.  He knew that his marriage wasn’t going to survive, and Penny sounds like she was generally pretty horrible to live with anyway.

While he’s recovering, he meets the local gentry, a Lady Juliet.  Lady Juliet is badass.  She’s 6’2, she wears pants, she drives, and she’s much smarter than most of the people in the village.  This being 1942, Lady Juliet doesn’t appreciate just how cool she is so she’s filled with the sort of self doubt and body image issues that women in 2017 suffer.   I suppose if I were a less flighty reader I could reflect that we’re all just as badass, and that no one appreciates their appeal and self worth in the moment, but I’m not going to moralize with this book.  It’s unnecessary.

The narration switches between Lady Juliet and Ben Bones, both immediately friends because of their education and knowledge of the world outside of the small town.  Lady Juliet is separated but not divorced yet, longing for the chance to make it final.  Girl.  Girl.  I FEEL YOU.  Ben loves Lady Juliet’s company, but seems to enjoy her companionship more than her wiles.  Typical dude, not recognizing the best thing to happen to him since med school.  Lady Juliet thinks that this is because she’s too tall, and not fancy, and in a way she’s right.  Right now Ben is incapable of falling for anyone who isn’t slightly like his vain, social climbing late wife, because Ben is human and humans repeat the same patterns over and over.  I know I said I wasn’t going to moralize, but I lied.  I just really enjoy being judgmental.

Ben receives a note apologizing for his injuries, stating that the “accident” was only meant for Penny.  Ben receives this note with an “aw, crap” response that I think is completely natural.  On one hand, he’s glad that he was saved the indignity of divorce, something so horrible in the 40s that even a death seemed preferable to airing one’s laundry in public.  On the other, she did die a violent death and now he’s obligated to try to find her killer.

The local sergeant fills the “idiot police” trope common in pastiche mysteries.  He’s risen to his rank mostly because he was there, not because of any intelligence or skill.  Small town crime rarely results in murder investigations, and besides, he’s also the air warden.  The sergeant is wholly consumed by preparations for the war, declared while Ben was in the hospital suffering from two broken legs.

Ben is moved to a small cottage most recently occupied by a woman who was killed in a gas explosion.  Lady Juliet warns Ben that the locals are very superstitious and that they speak of ghosts, and Ben is amused by this. Ghosts!  Hah!  That Ouija board he found in the cottage was surely just a parlor game, right?  Dun dun dun.  The superstitions are again brought up by the constable’s sister, who moves in with Ben to act as housekeeper and secretary.  If you are at all familiar with foreshadowing, you will of course know that within days of sleeping in the cottage Ben is visited by dreams which lead to sleepwalking, which lead to clues found on the scene of Penny’s murder.  Ben is also presented with a vision of a woman in a blue robe, a woman he knows instantly is Lucy, the former occupant of the cottage.  When he tells his housekeeper of this vision, it is confirmed that Lucy and several other villagers were practicing witches.  Yes!  Witches!

As Ben recovers and makes more appearances outside, it becomes apparent to the women of the village that Ben is a Grade A hottie.  Lady Juliet is already smitten with him, and soon he turns the head of the local school teacher, a petite and pretty woman who likes fancy clothing and appears to possess poor judgment and a bit of a bullying streak – something we last saw in Ben’s late wife, Penny.  Oh Ben.  You lovable, stupid man.

There are other mystery tropes introduced – the abused orphan, self poisoning, dark and stormy nights, double lives, but I’m not going to outline the rest of the plot.  This was light and delightful, and I see that it’s a series.  I plan on reading the rest, and I hope that the supernatural element is explored more just because it’s so unique to historical fiction.   It’s currently free on Google Play, and I highly recommend it as better than most of the free books out there right now.



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