Series: Robert MacDonald #36
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on August 6, 2019 (first published 1952)
Genres: Vintage Mystery
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When Dr. Raymond Ferens moves to a practice at Milham in the Moor in North Devon, he and his wife are enchanted with the beautiful hilltop village lying so close to moor and sky. At first, they see only its charm, but soon they begin to uncover its secrets—envy, hatred, and malice.
Everyone says that Sister Monica, warden of a children's home, is a saint—but is she? A few months after the Ferens' arrival her body is found drowned in the mill-race. Chief Inspector Macdonald faces one of his most difficult cases in a village determined not to betray its dark secrets to a stranger.
Murder in the Mill-Race, also published as Speak Justly of the Dead, takes place in a small, somewhat isolated town North Devon. Dr. Ferens has taken over the practice of the mostly retired town doctor and he and his wife are happy to move away from the grit and grime of the city. Of course, villages come with their own sets of difficulties, and in this particular village, one of those is Sister Monica who runs the children’s home. Mrs. Ferens has an instant dislike to her and while the townsfolk all praise her, you know something’s not quite right. It’s no surprise when she ends up dead in the stream just beyond the mill.
We meet the people in town as Dr. Ferens does and we are allowed to settle into the setting nicely before the murder occurs. Even then the local guy does a bit of investigating before MacDonald is called in. The villagers are not keen on answering the detective’s questions. They’d all like to pretend the death was an accident – although it clearly wasn’t.
MacDonald is a good series detective. Smart, but understanding too. He pays as much attention to the people as he does the clues. And he and his sidekick Reeves work together well. This is a fair mystery, we see the clues, actually our attention is drawn to them over and over, but I didn’t put it together, maybe because the killer was not exactly typical.
Murder in the Mill-Race works well as a stand-alone. The secondary characters and setting are as new to MacDonald as they are to us. And, at least in the two that I’ve read, he doesn’t have much of a personal life that changes over time, even if the world does. The last one I read was set in London during the war which gave it a very different feel than this one in the countryside. Honestly, I prefer this one slightly in that respect, but that’s a personal taste.
I love that so many of these Golden Age mysteries are being reprinted.
This counts as 1 pt in the COYER Treasure Hunt (book that takes place exclusively in a small town).