In Four Puddings and a Funeral, the sixth in H.Y. Hanna’s Oxford Tearoom series, Gemma Rose, owner of Little Stables Tearoom, gets her first catering job, for the funeral of Rex Clifford. The much younger widow, Adele, who flirts with the eligible men there, showing no sense of mourning for her husband, is triumphant that the night before he died, Rex changed his will to disinherit his only daughter and give everything to his wife. Then, at the funeral, a strange man gives a sudden announcement that he is the half- brother of Rachel Clifford, the long- lost love child of Rex, conceived during one of his trips to China. As they all argue over the man’s identity and Rex’s will, Adele clutches her stomach and falls over. The next morning word spreads all over town that Adele had died, and she was killed by a high dose of arsenic.
Gemma then becomes surprised to see a new detective in Oxford show up at her tea shop, demanding to know all about the food she served at the funeral. When he learns that Mabel Cook, the leader of the Old Biddies, served Adele a treacle tart at the funeral, the detective demands that she come back with him to the police station “to help him with his inquiries.” At this moment, Detective Inspector Devlin O’Connor, boyfriend of Gemma, comes to the tea room and is horrified at the prospect of his colleague’s forcing Mabel to go to the police station. But Mabel is delighted at the opportunity because she has always wanted to be grilled. That should have warned the arrogant new detective, come from London, and Mabel gives the man such a hard time that he can’t wait to release her. However, Mabel has now made a mortal enemy, and the detective, who has put himself in charge of the case, spends his time trying to prove Mabel guilty instead of actually investigating the case. So Gemma gets involved in order to be sure that the true murderer gets arrested.
Four Puddings and a Funeral is another strong entry in the Oxford Tearoom series. I really enjoyed the quality of the mystery as well as the relationship issues we see arise between Gemma and Devlin. It is not common to get to enjoy a mystery with both a very strong plot and a wide range of clever and vividly drawn characters, Hanna accomplishes this effectively. The plot, with its many possible solutions, unfolds to keep our fascination drawn to the book.
The characters are especially delightful. We have fun with the Old Biddies, especially hearing the account of how Mabel created havoc in the police station. We appreciate Gemma and Devlin, and we can identify with the challenges that they have been facing to make their relationship work, even in the face of Gemma’s mother’s determination to marry Gemma off to Lincoln, the doctor son of the mother’s best friend. There is a fun but excruciating scene in which Gemma brings Devlin to have dinner with her parents, only to discover that her mother has invited Lincoln and his mother to the dinner as a way to show up Devlin. Gemma’s mum is a crazy character herself, having lost her iPad and desperate to locate it.
I enjoyed the secret joke of naming the dead couple Rex and Adele. This harks back to Agatha Christie’s Pocket Full of Rye, in which the murder victims are named Rex and Adele, the latter being Rex’s much younger and new wife, just as in Four Puddings and a Funeral. Further, with Adele’s death, Rex’s daughter, Rachel, inherits his estate, just as is the case in the Christie Miss Marple book.
Pearl Hewitt performs the audio edition of this book. I always enjoy her performances, which contain so much expression. She truly does seem to embody the character of Gemma as she reads the book. She creates strong voices for all the characters and makes the book particularly enjoyable to listen to.
I really loved getting to listen to Four Puddings and a Funeral. The book has all that anyone could want in a cozy mystery: a strong plot, delightful characters, and creative relationship plots. I look forward to the next book’s coming out on audio, and I give this book five stars!
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