The title of Ann Purser's Threats at Three may be a little misleading. It is the 10th book in the Lois Meade Mystery series, not the third. The series began with Murder on Monday and went through all the days of the week before starting to use numbers in the titles.
The main character, Lois Meade, runs "New Brooms", a cleaning service in the English village of Long Farnden. Her cleaning business has given her many opportunities to help the local police solve many of their cases. Threats at Three opens with the village council discussing fundraising ideas to pay for the restoration of the one hundred year old village center hall. Most village residents are excited about the project, but at least one person disagrees - someone tries to burn down the beloved hall! Inspector Hunter Cowgill soon finds himself searching for the would-be arsonist as well as trying to identify an unknown body found in a canal.
There is a large cast of characters in this book whose lives are very intertwined, as you might expect in a small village. This really gives the reader a glimpse into life in Long Farnden. Lois's husband Derek Meade works on the village center fundraising committee, which includes know-it-all newcomer Gavin Adstone, and is making plans for a soap box derby. Lois is convinced by her daughter to give a cleaning job to a Paula Hickson, a young mother struggling to support her children after her abusive husband disappears. Lois's daughter, Josey, is friends with Gavin Adstone's wife Kate and is dating Inspector Cowgill's nephew Matthew. The village grapevine goes into full gear when Paula's son Jack disappears, then reappears a couple of days later. Nobody knows if he was kidnapped by his estranged father, by a stranger that has been hanging around the schoolyard selling drugs, or if Jack was just staying over at a friend's house as he claims.
While this is a cozy mystery, the characters are well-developed have many layers. This makes the book realistic and keeps it interesting. The characters are often unpredictable, which makes the everyday events in the story even more entertaining. For example, while Lois is well-liked and takes care of her family, friends, and employees, her daughter-in-law sometimes find her interfering. Lois's mother, "Gran" is opinionated and outspoken and can be funny, but her comments are sometimes rude. Just when you think you have her pegged as a crabby old lady, she shows she can be caring by reaching out to help a family member or fellow resident in the village. Paula's estranged husband Jack Sr. and Gavin seem to be villains at the beginning. However, Jack shows that he is a hard worker and does care about his family in spite of his previous violence, and Gavin starts to befriend the same committee members that he scorned at the beginning of the book in spite of some shady business dealings.
Inspector Cowgill's relationship with Lois is a little perplexing but interesting. By all descriptions and observations, Lois and Derek appear to have a happy, affectionate marriage. However, we learn the Inspector welcomes Lois's help with his cases not only for her observations, but also because he is in love with her! Cowgill is very pleased that his nephew is dating Lois's daughter since that gives him more of a reason to keep in touch with Lois. Lois changes the subject when family members make comments about the inspector's feelings for her, but once when the inspector kisses her cheek good-bye, Lois remains smiling and touching her cheek after he leaves. This complex relationship is intriguing, and I hope it continues in future installments of the series.
I greatly enjoyed this easy-going mystery. In addition to likeable characters, the descriptions of life in Long Farnden and the little details like water boiling on the Aga stove and choir practice at the village church transported me to this quaint village, which turned out not to be the sleepy town it first appeared.
The Long Farnden vicar said it best when discussing all the newcomers moving to their village:
"Life in this small community was often nothing like the tranquil existence some incomers
seemed to expect, but when presented with a problem, or somebody genuinely needing
help, many of the real villagers rallied around..."
I was happy to be an "incomer" and experience some time in the life of a Long Farnden villager. Readers of Ann Purser's earlier works will enjoy this installment. Fans of M.C. Beaton or Agatha Christie's Miss Marple will enjoy "Threats at Three".
This review was originally written for the "Season for Romance" E-Zine. The book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.