Friday, August 29, 2014

Anon, Sir, Anon by Rachel Heffington

I'm so glad for the opportunity I had to run Home Educated Authors Week earlier this winter (or, for those of you who don't live Downunder, earlier this summer). One of the reasons for this is all the amazing new authors I have discovered through the folks I reviewed. Another is the fact that some of these authors are busy little bees and have been hard at work to bring you more good stories.

Jennifer Freitag, with her upcoming magnumopus Plenilune, is a case in point. Another is the sparkling Rachel Heffington with her upcoming novel Anon, Sir, Anon. Rachel was kind enough to send me an advance review copy of this cozy and hilarious murder mystery, which is scheduled for publication on the 5th of November--yes, rather appropriately, Guy Fawkes' Day.
The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger.

In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets.

When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door.

Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.
Anon, Sir, Anon is Rachel Heffington's second novel. I've also had the pleasure of reading Fly Away Home (read my review here) and her novella The Windy Side of Care, both of which were lots of fun. 

Anon, Sir, Anon knocks those two out of the park.
The whole fish in its crispy, salted jacket stared at her with a glassy eye and Genevieve thought it looked at Whistlecreig and its inhabitants in a spirit of judgement and lemon-juice.
"I incline to concur," she whispered.
"To whom are you speaking?" Farnham asked.
Genevieve snapped straight. "To my fish, if you must know."  
This little murder mystery bears all the things I've come to expect from Rachel's books: crackling wit, gloriously well-crafted prose, and quirky, lovable characters. On top of that, the plot was more tightly woven and credible, the character interactions flowed better, and the writing--though I was reading a version which had not yet been polished by an editor--is patently more colourful and compelling than in her other works. In addition, there's a streak of something a little darker in this book. From the plight of the victim, to the identity of the killer, Rachel Heffington proves herself ready to make hard authorial decisions.

It's not that the book isn't fun. I was chuckling and reading passages out loud to my family the whole way through, and at the end I felt as though I'd been snuggling in a warm fluffy comfort read for a few wonderful hours. But this book proves that fluffy and laugh-out-loud funny doesn't necessarily mean insubstantial. I loved that the emotional centre of the book is not Vivi's relationship with the dashing young man she meets on the platform at Whistlecreig--but her relationship with her odd and brilliant uncle, Orville Farnham. I'm a firm believer that relationships are the key to characters, inside the cover of a book or out, and I'm actually in awe of how emotionally satisfying I found Vivi's relationship with her uncle--satisfying enough to bear the weight of a plot much weightier than this one.
Her uncle's arm was a warm thing to clasp as they made their way through the tangle of passages and Genevieve thought what a sad fact it was that gentlemen no longer "elbow" their ladies as Farnham had so bluntly put it; there was a certain peaceable respect in the gesture that made her feel like royalty as they hurried through the echoing hall and into another cell of firelight.
Farnham himself was, of course, a duck of a character. Had he been in a PG Wodehouse novel sharing the stage with Stiffy Byng, she would probably have called him "a woolly baa-lamb", thereby offending him deeply and eliciting some mordant Shakespearian quotation.

Finally, I really loved the understated and taken-for-granted Christianity of the characters. It's rare to find a contemporary Christian novel which doesn't descend into preachiness. Of course, Anon, Sir, Anon is not in that rather weird genre, but I loved to see the sprawling magnificence of the Christian worldview peeking out at the corners--here a quote from Spurgeon, there a reference to "the difference between stepping into a church under construction and a cathedral that had stood six hundred years, steeped in worship." There is a sheer homeliness to such detail that enhances, rather than detracts from, the coziness and comfortableness of the book: God's in His heaven, all's right with the world.

Anon, Sir, Anon isn't published yet. But it contains everything I like best about good vintage mysteries like Ethel Lina White's Some Must Watch or the sweeter Agatha Christie novels. I highly recommend it. 

Keep up to date on Anon, Sir, Anon by following Rachel Heffington on her blog. And: remember, remember, the fifth of November.


Joy said...

Lovely review!

I am reading an advanced copy of Anon, Sir, Anon, right now - and I totally love your review of Rachel's book, Suzannah, and the way you put into words the loveliness of this story. This one sure blows out her other writings, IT IS SO GOOD! and cozy :). I agree with your points on the wonderful things this little mystery book contains, and can't wait to finish it!

My, but there are many exciting releases up and about these days :).
Joy @

Christina Baehr said...

Definitely want to read this now. Thanks for the heads-up.

Suzannah said...

I hope you'll really enjoy it, Christina. I think that when I compared it to SOME MUST WATCH, I was picking up on a worldview thing: in both books, the coziness of the mystery is firmly rooted in the comfort of the right worldview, whereas the spine-tingliness of the threat is rooted in the ugliness of sin.

Yikes. I think Rachel Heffington and Ethel Lina White have just inspired a whole theology of cozy murder mysteries! :D


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