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The Magic Chair Murder
A 1920s English Mystery
Black and Dod Mystery – Book I
Diane Janes

Severn House
US March 2018 / UK 30 November 2017 / ISBN 9780727887597

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde

It's 1929 and the members of the Robert Barnaby Society are staying at a hotel for a meeting. New committee member Linda Dexter is going to make a speech, but the night before she vanishes. Is it cold feet about speaking in public, or has something more sinister happened? When her burnt out car is found nearby and then Linda’s body is found on the railway track it looks like a simple case of suicide, but fellow member Frances Black is unsure. With her new friend Tom Dod in tow, the pair decides to discover if Linda really did kill herself, or whether she was murdered.

This series debut paints a convincing picture of life in rural England after the First World War. It is a time of spare women, families coming to terms with lost members and everybody coping with a different world than the one they remembered from before the war. Linda is a woman on her own after her husband left her for somebody else, and like many of the other characters, she is looking for her place in society. Robert Barnaby is a fictional children’s writer whose work the members are all supposedly fans of, but while some of them clearly are most use it for other reasons. Love affairs, a chance to show off, make friends or fill the time are the usual ones and the sleuths have to sift through it all to find a reason for murder. The book started a bit slowly as the author did not attempt to describe many characters’ physical appearance and a lot of people were all introduced at once. Also, it was hard to get interested in “Robert Barnaby” when we are told so little about him. We soon understand that for many members it does not matter much what the society is about but as this is not true of everybody it would be good to know a bit more. Once the detecting starts the book takes off and becomes quite a page-turner as Laura and Tom chase around digging into the past. Like the golden age mysteries, the author is clearly a fan of this book is all about detecting, but there is also plenty about the period and Laura comes to life as a character to care about. I would read another and look forward to seeing how the characters develop.

Reviewed 2017