The Sibyl In Her Grave
Many mysteries have used as their backdrop one of those quaint English villages that seem only to exist on BBCA, PBS, and A&E mini-series. If you are fond of cozy mysteries in quaint villages, you can find one in Sarah Caudwell’s The Sibyl in her Grave
London barrister Julia Larwood discovers that her Aunt Regina, who lives in the village of Parsons Haver, West Sussex, is having financial trouble. It seems that Regina and two friends, Maurice and Griselda, invested some money on the advice of their friend Ricky, and made a killing – but now that the money has been spent, the taxman is demanding his share, and a sizable share it is. Along with fellow barristers Selena, Cantrip, and Ragwort, and professor of Legal History Hilary Tamar, Julia begins to find out more and more about what really happened in order for her aunt to have done so well with her investments.
As it turns out, linked to Regina’s troubles is psychic counselor Isabella del Comino (nee Cummings), who had taken over the Rectory along with her dowdy, devoted niece Daphne and a bunch of ravens, much to the consternation of Regina and her friends. Isabella treats Daphne as a servant, banishing her from their home whenever a mysterious black Mercedes arrives for a Personal Reading. When Isabella is found dead after one such visit, suspicion arises that she was actually blackmailing people under the guise of “psychic counseling.” Also linked to the investments is an insider-trading scam that involves one of Julia’s clients, and it is up to Julia and company to find out what the connection is.
The Sibyl in her Grave is an example of the quintessential village mystery, with a very civilized, very British tone that can be a bit smug and wordy at times. A series of long letters comprise a great part of the book; they describe the events in Parsons Haver. Though the letters are in themselves amusing, it seemed a little implausible to have so many of them, and that Hilary Tamar would get to read them. The story was interesting enough to keep me reading, but, at times, the style of the book got in the way.
There is a lot happening here: the relationship between Maurice and the mysterious Derek Arkwright, the relationship between the irritating Daphne and everyone she manages to annoy, a trip to France, the ongoing remodeling going on at the law offices, Julia’s client and his two potential heirs, etc. The biggest mystery, and the one that remains unresolved since Caudwell passed away in 2000, is Professor Hilary Tamar’s sex. This didn’t intrigue me too much, since I found other characters (Julia and company) far more interesting than Hilary, who is often wrong in his/her conclusions, and it is thanks to them that I may try another of Sarah Caudwell’s earlier books next time I need a dose of British mystery.