Mysterious Invitation (2021) by Bernice Bloom [Mary Brown Mysteries #1]
Mary Brown (and five others) receives an invitation to the funeral of a man she doesn't know. In fact, neither she nor her parents have ever heard of Reginald Charters. And an internet search leaves them no wiser. When she contacts the solicitors mentioned in the invitation to see if perhaps they have the wrong Mary Brown, they assure her that she really is the Mary Brown Reginald wanted at his funeral. All expenses will be paid--for hotel, travel, and incidentals--and if she comes then she will hear something to her advantage. So, she decides "what the heck" and arrives to find that the five other people specifically invited to the funeral also have no idea who Reginald Charters was and why he wanted them there.
Each person finds an envelope with newspaper clipping inside and message from Reginald saying how glad he is that they could come. At dinner, the solicitor tells them that after the funeral there will be a reading of the will--in which they all figure. When the will is read, they are told that there is one million pounds to be divided amongst them if they can figure out who Reginald was and why they have been selected. They have 20 hours to solve the mystery.
The group decides to pool their resources. Simon Blake, a director, takes the lead and asks each one to share what their newspaper clipping is about and a little bit about their lives. Mary's is dated 1973 and is about a playwriting course offered by a man called Andrew Marks in Bristol, but she hasn't any more idea who Andrew was than she does about Reginald. Simon goes next. His clipping is from 1977 and gives a list of plays written by different playwrights. He hasn't been able to get much information about any of them though he thinks his father may have produced some, or all, of the plays. And he does have a connection to Bristol. He works as a theatre director in Bath which is close to Bristol. Julie and Sally Bramley (sisters) have cuttings from 1976 about nurses from Bristol--and their mother was a nurse. Mike Sween has a paper that is a mock-up of an ad for a Bed & Breakfast in Bristol and his parents ran a B&B in Bristol for years. And, finally, Matt Prior doesn't have a clipping, but has a taxi receipt from 1976 with a smiley face and what looks like a medical cross on it. He can't think of any connection to Bristol. But it definitely seems like Bristol is central to the story.
Who was Reginald Charters? What do all these clues mean? And will they find out in time to earn the inheritance? Woven between the chapters focused on the modern day puzzle is a story of Marco, an Italian prisoner of war during World War II who was put to work on a farm in Wales. As we read the story of Marco and (eventually) his family, we begin to understand how everything fits together--long before Mary and the others do.
[Slight spoilers ahead!]
I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand it is an interesting story about how our lives affect one another and also about how POWs in the UK were treated. I enjoyed watching how lives changed from the post-war years through the 70s to today. And I was definitely engaged with Marco's story. But I am disappointed that the story isn't quite the mystery which the blurbs on the back of the book led me to expect. Very little suspense and tension (other than Julie being a major pain in the you-know-what) and the stakes aren't really as high as the group are led to believe. There are emotional mysteries to be solved, but that's about it. One other quibble--I really got tired of all the meals and food talk by our main character. Okay--we get it. Mary Brown likes her food. That's great. And for the most part (again, except for Julie), the others don't shame her for her enjoyment of food--and lots of it. It was good to see a story where people were so accepting of those who weren't like them or whom society in general might not be so generous to. But after a while it just didn't add anything to the main plot. Especially when Mary is the one making such a major deal about it and the others don't even seem to be paying attention. ★★★
First line: "Hi, Mum, it's me," I said, as I plonked myself inelegantly on the edge of the squashy sofa, and listened to my mother's dulcet tones come down the phone line.
Last line: Please come and visit us! Lots of love, Charlie & Eddie Gower.
Deaths = nine (natural)
November = pub month
This certainly sounds like an interesting premise! Shame you didn't enjoy it more.
Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!
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