Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The Black Cat Murders

 The Black Cat Murders (2019) by Karen Baugh Menuhin

Major Heathcliff (don't call him that) Lennox finds murder at the wedding of one of his childhood friends. Lady Caroline Bloxford is scheduled to marry the wealthy American Hiram Chisolm in a real bang-up shindig. That is, Hiram's blue-blood mother has decided that it must be fancy with cultural entertainment--so Lennox needs to prepare himself for a full dose of opera. Except the lead baritone is squashed flat by the soprano when a trap door breaks, so maybe there won't be an opera after all. Despite the death being declared an accident by Brigadier Bloxford, Lennox's friend Dr. Cyril Fletcher is convinced there's something fishy about the death. When more deaths follow, it looks like he was right. Lennox teams up with his nemesis from the first book--Inspector Jonathan Swift--to discover whether the murders have to do with opera or a gentleman's club called the Black Cat or with the risque paintings known as the Bloxford Beauties...or maybe all three.

When I finished Lennox's debut in Murder at Melrose Court, I had hoped that in the next installment we would have built on the glimmerings of character that I saw in that novel. I wasn't terribly impressed with Lennox as our amateur sleuth, but I thought there was potential and went into the second novel expecting to like Lennox better. For the first half of the book, I'm afraid that wasn't the case. If anything, I liked him less. If I hadn't committed to this for one of the challenges I do that doesn't allow substitutions, I probably wouldn't have finished it. I also kept reading because I was interested in the plot--I did want to know why the murders had occurred and who had done the evil deeds, but I didn't particularly care if he figured it out.  His character isn't exactly bad so much as it is blah. And he is no great shakes at detecting, though things did pick up a bit when he and Inspector Swift make peace and investigate together. I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm probably comparing him with Charles Lennox (a gentleman detective established in 2007 by author Charles Finch) and finding Heathcliff wanting. One point in his favor, when he realized that the pretty young woman that both he and Swift were interested in wasn't a good match for him (their interests are too different), he went out of his way to help Swift move his romance along.

I do love a country house murder, so the setting is perfect. I also enjoyed the characters of Richard Dicks (whose mania for order reminds me of a certain Belgian detective), head footman, and Miss Isabelle Busby (who serves as a kind of Watson to Lennox). I could definitely stand to see more of them--though it's unlikely since they're tied to the area near the Bloxford estate.The motive for the murder is a little unusual and I did enjoy trying to figure out who done it and why. The final wrap-up scene is a bit over-the-top and I find it hard to believe the wedding party just morphed right into a funeral party with such ease. Despite an interesting plot, I can't say that I'm too eager to try a third. However, there are plenty of folks on Goodreads who disagree with me, so your mileage may vary. ★★

First line: "Rather an unlikely murder weapon," I remarked. "A soprano."

Last line: "Very well, sir."


Deaths = 11 (one bled to death; three shot; five natural; one stabbed; one bombed in WWI)

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