Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cotswolds Cozy Fails to Deliver

The Evil That Men Do, by Jeanne M. Dams

Severn House Publishing, Ltd. 2011
(Kindle Download) 

Dorothy Martin, a retired American school teacher, and her second husband, Alan Nesbitt, a former Chief Constable in the fictional English village of Sherebury, spend a lot of time walking in the countryside, drinking tea and going from village to village pursuing vague leads about missing people in the latest offering in Jeanne Dams' cozy series featuring Dorothy as an amateur sleuth.  The retired couple have settled into a routine since their marriage, but they also enjoy travels around the UK, and though they are probably approaching seventy, The Evil That Men Do finds them on a walking tour of the Cotswolds undertaken as a series of day hikes. Any reader knows that murder doesn't take a holiday, so while Dorothy and Alan hike in the countryside, they become disoriented and stumble upon a body in an old quarry. Meanwhile, Dorothy meets a young man, Paul Jones, a guest at the Bed and Breakfast where they are staying, who seems to be troubled and perhaps in trouble.  When he and a friend of his vanish, Dorothy feels she must take action.

I hate to be overly critical of an author who has brought me pleasure with other books, but this latest Dorothy Martin mystery doesn't work for me on multiple levels.  The motivation behind Dorothy's involvement in the mystery is thin at best.  The secondary characters aren't well developed, so  I actually didn't care that they disappeared.  There isn't a logical connections of events--Dam often seems to be "over-reaching" as the story moves from scene to scene in the narrative.  The plot is slow moving--other reviewers comment it is more a travelogue than a mystery.  Even Dorothy, who has been compared to Miss Marple and can be a very spunky and likable heroine, seems wooden and emotionally wobbly in this book.  While the pace picks up toward the end, the believability factor becomes more far-fetched to me. By the end of the book, I even begin to weary of the scenic Cotswolds setting, certainly a strength of the novel. 

Contrast this to Winter of Discontent, a 2004 Dorothy Martin offering from Jeanne Dams.  I've read it twice, and I rarely read a mystery more than once.  But I'm a sucker for mysteries set at Christmas so Dams hooks me with her first paragraph: "I looked at the calendar and sighed.  Not only a Monday, but December eighth.  Exactly seventeen days till Christmas and I had done almost nothing.  No cookies had been baked, no cards sent, no presents bought, let alone wrapped."

When Dorothy and Alan's next-door-neighbor, the feisty and thoroughly likable Jane Langland, discovers that her former lover is first missing, then found dead, I understand perfectly that Dorothy must set aside her holiday preparations to help Jane get some answers. The town, the climate, the church all create an atmosphere for the book that pulls me in as a reader. The plot is more cohesive, better paced and believable.

Dams' first Dorothy Martin book, The Body in the Transept, published in 1995, won the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and received critical acclaim, e.g., Publisher's Weekly wrote, "With her penchant for colorful hats, Dorothy establishes herself as a fresh, commanding and always genteel presence among female elder-sleuths of the '90s."

Photo from killerhobbies blog. Click here to see this blog.

In this photo of mystery authors, Monica Ferris on the left and Jeanne Dams on the right, we see that Dorothy Martin isn't the only one with a penchant for hats.  Both of these authors of cozy mysteries enjoy modeling the latest additions to their wardrobes.

Dams, a widow, lives in South Bend, Indiana, where she also writes another historical mystery series set in the South Bend of a 100 years ago, featuring Hilda Johansson, a young Swedish housemaid, who works in the Studebaker home there.


  1. been meaning to ask if you've read steve hamilton's alex mcknight series - thought of it when you said you had read longmire. mcknight lives near a res in the up and regularly finds himself in bad weather and/or getting beat up - none of the dams gentility here. i've been enjoying the longmire tv series, btw

    1. Have added the Alex McKnight series to my wish list. Thanks.

  2. I could swear I've read something in this series, but if I have I didn't review it because I could find no trace on my blog. Maybe before I started blogging....

    Anyway, sorry that this one didn't live up to expectations. It is always disappointing when a favorite author doesn't feel up to par. Or that a favorite character doesn't "feel" right.

    1. @ Jennie, I've enjoyed most of the series but Dams is inconsistent. I can only imagine how difficult it is to meet deadlines when you might feel like you need more time. I blame editors--they can see book needs polishing.

  3. I read several inconsistent authors. Like television series, sometimes characters run their course and finding a way to keep them fresh must be challenging. Linda Fairstein is one that I used to enjoy more than I do now, but I keep reading any new addition to the series.

    Have you read any of Reginald Hill's works? He is one of my favorite authors, and I was grief-stricken when he died. No more Fat Andy & Pascoe?

    His books are filled with allusions that work beautifully without interfering, his characters are well-rounded and believable--and I looked forward to each new adventure with old friends.

    A couple of years ago I started going back and reading some of his earlier books, watching Hill develop from sort of average into marvelous. Around his fifth or sixth book, he found his path, and from then on his books are consistently excellent.

    I think I started the series with Dialogues of the Dead, the nineteenth in the series and began devouring everything the library had to offer in whatever order I found them. Much later, I ordered some of the very first ones in the series (many of which were out of print, so had to use Alibris and Abe to get used copies). Although the earliest books are-- well, not so good, it was fascinating to see his characters in their inchoate forms and appreciate how far Hill came in his abilities.

    I've reviewed quite a few of his books, but I started reading him long before I started blogging. He wrote some decent stand-alone books, too, but Dalziel & Pascoe are my favorites mystery/police procedural books of all time.

    I think you'd enjoy them (recommendations are always risky, as each of us has such personal ways of viewing a book); they don't have to be read in order.

    1. Thanks, Jennie, I've added this series to my wish list. I reward myself with a book from wish list when I meet some personal goal :-)

  4. What a nice the hats and your posts are GREAT. Going to look around some more.


    Found you on BBAW....enjoy the week.

    Silver's Reviews

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth, for taking time to visit and comment. I'm afraid I'm rather bogged down with work right now and behind on my posts :-( but I've been working all weekend and hope to be able to reward myself soon with time for blogging--and reading!! Looking forward to discovering some new blogs myself!