More Jazz Age mayhem in the UK…
A Baffling Murder at the Midsummer Ball is the second in TE Kinsey’s historical mystery series featuring the Dizzy Heights, an eight-piece jazz band based in London. In the first book, the band’s founders, Skins Maloney and Barty Dunn, together with Skins’ American wife, Ellie, tracked down a murderer among the clubs and nightlife of London. For their second outing, however, the Heights are visiting Oxfordshire, where their brand-new manager, Katy, has booked them to play at Bilverton House’s midsummer ball. I had read and enjoyed the first in this series when it came out (see my review here), so I was happy to receive a review copy of this second title as well. And I liked it a lot, even a bit more than the first one.
At first, it seems that all is going to go well with the Heights’ venture to the country, aside from a spot of travel sickness for the band’s singer, Mickey Kent. Sure, Ellie overhears some rather tense bickering between some of the members of the Bilverton family (of Bilverton’s Biscuits). And with all of the guests staying in the main house, the band ends up sleeping on some cots in a converted chapel on the property. But the party goes well, the food is good, and they get a chance to riff with a new singer with a great voice. Even cooler, Malcolm Bilverton has set up a very professional first-generation recording studio in part of the former chapel, and he makes some records of the band the next morning.
Then things start to go wrong. The bus that is supposed to take them back to London doesn’t show up, and John, the patriarch of the family, is found shot, inside his locked study. Everyone assumes he committed suicide, but when the youngest Bilverton, Howard, tries to go for the doctor and the police, he discovers that the estate is surrounded by floodwater. So when Skins and Barty, who saw some grim stuff during the war, recognize that the gunshot wound doesn’t look self-inflicted, thus begins a classic locked room mystery, neatly wrapped inside an isolated country house mystery. Author Kinsey provides a lot of motives and clues, and even more red herrings, but eventually Barty, Skins and Ellie figure it out.
As I mentioned above, I liked this book even a bit more than the first one. The characters are more developed, and Ellie (a nurse during the war) has a bigger role, which she fills nicely. I especially liked learning more about the early days of music recording – it’s easy to tell that once again, TE Kinsey has done a stellar job of research for the background of his book. Kinsey also slides in occasional spots of wry humor as when he comments after the patriarch’s final exit before his death, “The band, as bands do, played on.” And finally, the plot kept me guessing until the end, as mysteries mostly should.
Please keep in mind that I try not to give too many 5-star reviews, so my 4-star rating for A Baffling Murder at the Midsummer Ball is a solid “read” recommendation. I very much hope that there are more titles to come in this series. And finally, my thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the advance review copy.