The Curse of Penryth Hall

Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781250886019. $28. M
DEBUT Winner of the Mystery Writers of America First Novel Crime Award, Armstrong’s entrancing historical debut delivers an elegantly crafted, supernatural-tinged plot that evokes the best of Barbara Michaels, with nods to Conan Doyle’s The Hound of Baskervilles. Superbly rendered characters include a plucky protagonist whom Maisie Dobbs would be proud to claim as a friend and an evocative sense of place reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier at her best. Ostensibly in Cornwall to deliver some antiquarian books, Ruby Vaughn has a real motive, to check in on her old friend Tamsyn. But Tamsyn, now the wife of Sir Edward Chenowyth and mistress of Penryth Hall, is no longer the vibrant girl Ruby knew during the Great War. Tempted to chalk up the changes in Tamsyn to Edward (who is a bully if not worse), Ruby thinks it’s a blessing in disguise when Edward is found dead. But then everyone in the village claims that his death is the result of the Penryth Curse, and Tamsyn insists that she and her young son will be the next targets.
VERDICT Readers who like their historical mysteries embellished with plenty of gothic ambience and enhanced with an abundance of dry wit will adore this splendid debut.
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