#2 Miss Clara Vale Mysteries
Publisher: Embla Books
Publishing Date: November 28, 2023
Someone is killing fairy godmothers in Cinderella... Can Miss Clara Vale crack the case before the clock strikes twelve?
December: Snow is falling, and Miss Clara Vale is wrapped up against the cold
as she braves the icy streets of Newcastle in her latest investigation.
When a young actress from the touring pantomime of Cinderella arrives at her door, Clara isn't sure what to make of her request. Sybil Langford, the legendary fairy godmother in their production, has mysteriously vanished. Could Clara help track her down?
But a few days into Clara's search, Sybil's body is pulled from an icy river, and Clara finds herself in the middle of yet another murder mystery.
With scheming stepsisters waiting in the wings, handsome princes who aren't all they seem, and clues as elusive as glass slippers, Clara will need every one of her scientific skills to catch the killer...
And when Sybil's replacement meets her own tragic end, Clara is in a race against time before the murderer sends a third cast member to their unhappily ever after...
Although this is the second title in a series, this was my first encounter with Miss Clara Vale, and it was a pleasure making her acquaintance and joining her on her sleuthing adventures. Furthermore, I can safely say that this book can be read as a stand-alone story.
Historical mysteries with female leads don’t always work for me. All too often the story becomes a little absurd or over the top in order to allow the sleuth to investigate within the world she inhabits. I had no such qualms about Miss Clara Vale. While it was still (very) rare, women were allowed into colleges in England in 1929, so it is plausible that she would be a knowledgeable chemist. The fact that most but not all men she encounters disapprove of her chosen profession and way of life, and try to discourage her, also makes perfect sense but thankfully didn’t take over the story.
I enjoyed the multi-layered mysteries in this book. What starts of as a case of a missing pantomime leading lady soon turns into something a lot darker and more serious when she turns up dead. Clara Vale moves along with developments, adjusting her investigation to new discoveries as required and making good use of science, friends, and associates.
I have to admit that I figured a lot (but not all) of the mysteries in this book out for myself well before Clara and the police arrived at the same conclusions. That’s not a complaint, however. It just means that this is a true puzzle mystery in that the reader is given all the clues they need to solve the riddles.
This story is filled with interesting and well-portrayed characters. I like Miss Clare Vale. She is a smart, practical, and feisty woman who mostly manages to steer clear of stupid decisions. There is a vast cast of secondary characters in this book, and I liked that they were described just enough for them to play their assigned role in the story without turning into boring stereotypes. I’m especially fond of Clara’s new assistant Betty, and I’m looking forward to reading more about her.
Overall, The Pantomime Murders was a delightful surprise. Who could ask for more than a well-plotted mystery, featuring a fascinating main character, intriguing side characters, and a satisfying solution? Especially when it’s all served as a smooth and captivating read. I’ve got a feeling, I’ll be spending more time with Miss Clara Vale in the future.