How does a small English town react after a murder is committed in their midst? A. H. Richardson’s Murder in Little Shendon seeks to explore just that. Being the first book in The Hazlitt/Brandon series of murder-mystery novels, Murder in Little Shendon is a thriller murder mystery which takes place in a quaint little village in England after World War Two.
Picture, if you will, a picturesque village called Little Shendon, suddenly caught up in dealing with a murder of one of its citizens — not a particularly well-liked one at that. Which makes it all the more intriguing because the list of suspects becomes very long. This tantalizing tale unfolds with twists and turns to find out whodunit to Mr. Bartholomew Fynche, the murdered shopkeeper. Fear grips the community as the investigation slowly progresses. Everyone is interviewed; everyone is suspect! Uncertainty, wariness, and terror reign as neighbors watch neighbors to discover the evil that permeates their upturned lives. No one feels safe in this charming little village. Who is the murderer? And why was this strange uncivil man dispatched in such a seemingly civil community?
Murder in Little Shendon is, on the whole, a really engaging, suspenseful, page-turning murder mystery with a strong payoff at the end. Its strongest aspect is its characters, particularly Sir Victor Hazlitt (a man of many pasts (who at one time worked with MI5))and Berry Brandon (an “almost famous” actor). Nowadays, the most effective way to make your murder mystery stand out is to make sure your protagonists are unique enough to stand out amongst the crowded arena of other detectives and murder mysteries. Richardson largely succeeds in this with Hazlitt and Brandon leading her series. It’s not every day that you see a detective story that revolves partially around an actor moonlighting as a detective, and that’s the most interesting part of the novel.
The mystery itself, too, is interesting and enjoyable, particularly the way it unfolds across the novel. In some ways, Murder in Little Shendon feels very old school. Much of the story comes out through conversations between various characters as our detectives – Hazlitt, Brandon, and Burgess (the actual Inspector from the police who’s inspecting this case). The fun of the novel comes in how the characters interact with one another. Each character has their own distinct personality and their own distinct way of presenting themselves to the world, and it’s so interesting as Hazlitt and Brandon work their way through each suspect, examining their quirks and statements and motivations for killing Fynche.
Also worth noting is the fact that this mystery can be solved by the reader as they’re reading it. It’s a quality that every truly good murder mystery has, and Murder in Little Shendon possesses it, too. The identity of the murderer is not painfully obvious, but there are clues that can be picked up on that can and will lead astute readers to the right answer, and they’ll feel satisfied and vindicated at the end of the book when they find they’ve been able to figure out the mystery just like the characters did. And for those who weren’t able to figure it out on their first read, they’ll be pleased to go back and read the book after knowing who-did-it and see how all the clues do, indeed, add up to that suspect.
So, on the whole, it’s a pretty good book. It’s a quick and enjoyable read, but it’s definitely not without its problems. Most of them lean more toward the technical side of writing, but they’re just problematic enough that it’s a bit distracting at times. Pretty much from the beginning, it’s clear that Murder in Little Shendon suffers from a lack of editing. The book is littered with grammatical errors (like missing and unclosed question marks, an excess of commas, etc) as well as continuity errors (in particular, Richardson can’t seem to decide on the spelling of Leslie Armstrong’s name, alternating between Leslie and Lesley). These are all things that would have been caught by any editor worth their salt at their job, and it’s a shame that many self-published authors don’t have the luxury of having an editor who can catch those things. It’s the little things like this that can make an otherwise enjoyable book feel needlessly amateurish.
Murder in Little Shendon is an enjoyable read. Its mystery is fun and interesting, its pacing is strong, and its characters are dynamic, interesting, and well developed, especially it’s main two detectives, Hazlitt and Brandon. It’s a strong first book in what I hope is a strong series of murder-mystery novels. It’s weighed down by some technical errors, but if you can get around those, you’re rewarded with a fun read and an enormously satisfying ending. As far as murder mysteries go, Murder in Little Shendon is an example of how to write a unique one. A. H. Richardson is definitely an author to look out for.
(3.5 out of 5 wands, would’ve gotten a 4 without the grammatical issues)