Warning at One Mass Market Paperback – Nov 3 2009
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"A real page turner" Kirkus Reviews on Secrets on Saturday "The indomitable Lois is something of an updated Miss Marple" Booklist on Secrets on Saturday "A fine series that just keeps getting better - a must for British cozy fans" Booklist on Fear on Friday "Clever, engaging, and suspenseful, this is Purser's best Lois Mead adventure yet. Recommend it heartily to all village cozy fans" Booklist on Theft on Thursday" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
Lois's cleaners have access to all kinds of unusual goings-on in the towns and villages where they work, so this is a good plot device. In this case, Lois is caught up in the mystery of Gordon Street, where she owns a house (purchased in the wake of a lottery windfall in a prior book.) At first, the only problem appears to be the presence of Clem Fitch's rooster, the aptly-named Satan, who has driven out Lois's tenants by doing what roosters do at dawn every day of the week. But there are other, more ominous, doings afoot on Gordon Street. Lois's team begins working for a mysterious elderly and blind (possibly?) woman who moves into "Braeside" across the street from Clem (why does the heavyset man who is her son yell at her, the cleaners worry?); while a reclusive skinny man living on the other side of Clem behaves very suspiciously. A murder ignites a two-track investigation; the police on one side and Lois on the other.
The plot in this book is solid, full of twists and turns. The characters are predictable; the outspoken, energetic and intelligent Lois, her stolid and loving husband; their three children; the hapless police detective; the members of the cleaning staff, etc. (For the reference of those who enjoy this book, Ann Purser was once referred to as the new Miss Read for a series of non-mystery novels revolving around rural characters; these actually are better-written, in my opinion and well worth seeking out; titles include Orphan Lamb and Thy Neighbor's Wife.) A character from that non-mystery series, Ivy Beasley, makes a guest appearance in this and some other Lois Meade books.
The case is eventually resolved with the help of Douglas, Lois's eldest son, who moves into the empty house next to Clem and the rooster and finds love with Clem's grandaughter along the way. This is a book to read more for the characters than the plot, however.
One note: the titles (which began with days of the week and now appear to be moving on to numbers) have less and less to do with the plots. I believe in the first book there was a murder on monday, but I can't figure out what "warning at one" has to do with the plot at all. *Shrug*
Not everyone is euphoric over the Village Hall Renovation Fund-Raising renovation plan to "save our shed". Some feel it is a waste of money and prefer nothing occur while one person fears her spouse will cause trouble for the townsfolk. New Broome cleaning business owner Lois Meade becomes embroiled in the middle trying to prevent a calamity from happening. However she fails as the first corpse is found leading to Inspector Cowgill investigating the homicide and Lois "helping" him.
Well written, the latest Lois Meade amateur sleuth (see Warning at One and Tragedy at Two) is an engaging tale that spends most of the story line on a small village politics when an issue divides the community. The support ensemble cast is solid as each picks a side in the community debate. However, the whodunit takes a back seat to the increasingly divisive ugly fight to shed or not to shed.
When I started reading Threats at Three I didn't think I would like it but hung in there for a chapter or two and began to get interested, not so much in the plot, but in the characters. Actually, the plot was a little thin. For instance who was trying to burn down the hall? If that was clearly established I missed it. The characters, however, seemed well defined and tempted you to read the forerunner books to see how they developed.
If you like fast moving action, dead on suspense, and a stunning rap up, this book is probably not for you. If, instead, you want to spend a leisurely couple of days in an English village peering in the windows of some of the families then Threats at Three will be your 'cup of tea'.
"Threats at Three" begins as the villagers of Long Farnden try to identify a way to save their village hall, a popular spot where the Women's Institute (WI) and other community groups meet. Because of the building's rich heritage as a center of life in the village for many generations, there is much debate as to whether to re-build or remodel. It is decided that the building will be remodeled and a committee sets out to identify a way to raise the much-needed funds. However, evil forces from outside the village are at work to destroy these plans, and when two new families, the Hicksons and the Adstones, move into Long Farnden, some strange things start to happen. Threats against both families lead to an abduction, and then there is a mysterious transient who continues to haunt the village. It is up to Lois, as usual, to use her connections to help her good friend, Inspector Cowgill, get to the bottom of things before life in the village is threatened further.