Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Mrs. Jeffries in the Nick of Time by Emily Brightwell

jcMrs. Jeffries is “the Miss Marple of Victorian mystery.” Mrs. Jeffries is the housekeeper of Inspector Gerald Witherspoon, who is sometimes rather inept and awkward. He inherited his home and Mrs. Jeffries and staff from a relative raising him socially above his former station in life. Emily Brightwell is the talented author of this series of mysteries. The first three have been brought together in one volume Mrs. Jeffries Learns the Trade, containing The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries, Mrs. Jeffries Dusts for Clues, and The Ghost and Mrs. Jeffries. These charming mysteries give you an instant feeling of place and time as Mrs. Jeffries uses the skills learned from her late policeman husband with her handy staff of young Wiggins, the older and worldly- wise Smythe, the much younger housemaid Betsy, and Mrs. Goodge, the cook. They are occasionally joined by Luty Belle Crookshank, the plain old homespun American widow of a wealthy British aristocrat and her butler, companion, and driver Hatchet. They are all very discreet in their inquiries so as not to embarrass the Inspector who has no idea that his solutions are all handed to him by Mrs. Jeffries in mild suggestions she makes while serving his meals or tea. There are 23 books in the series. It helps to read them in order, but it is not essential. The romance of Betsy and Smythe waxes and wanes throughout the series. A wry sense of humor is obvious in all the series. Scotland Yard cannot figure out how the awkward, inept Inspector Witherspoon is so successful with his cases.

In the latest novel (March 2009 paperback) Mrs. Jeffries in the Nick of Time, a tea party is commencing at Humphrey House, but the owner of the place, train devotee Francis Humphreys fails to be with his guests. His two young nieces who live with him along with other assembled relatives and friends become concerned because he is a punctual person. A knock on his door goes unanswered. Recently Francis has been forgetful as if he was in an early stage of senility. All talking at the party abruptly ends when a shot is heard. Everyone rushes to Francis’ room where they find him dead, a bullet to his head. They call the cops and Scotland Yard sends their top detective Inspector Witherspoon to investigate what looks like a suicide by a man losing his mind.

The Inspector is disgusted as he is stuck with Inspector Nivens’ nephew Lionel Gates as his assistant rather than the dependable Constable Barnes whom he respects. Still they interview the guests and investigate motives; most inherit part of Francis’ estate. However opportunity remains elusive as every attendee had an alibi since all of them were in the drawing room together when the shot was heard. Witherspoon’s housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries and the rest of the downstairs staff secretly investigate in hopes of finding clues to assist their kind employer and prevent a killer from murdering again.

More serious Victorian mystery readers may prefer Inspector Thomas Pitt cases written by Anne Perry, but I enjoy both series equally well.