This memoir reminds us that not that long ago—in the 1970s—it was novel for a young, married, pregnant woman to be working in a profession such as the law. In vivid, well-crafted prose, Melanie Russell relates her venture in solo practice as a solicitor, working from her home in a small English village, portraying the people of her town with compassion, wisdom and humor. The remarkable situations she encountered make good enough stories, both the solemn ones and the comical ones, but the style in which she tells them makes them all the more engaging. I laughed out loud at several scenes, and was as caught up in others as if I were reading a mystery.
I often enjoy a mystery regardless of solving it myself or not, for various reasons. In this case, the pacing and the humor kept me so amused I forgot to try to solve the murder.
Talkative, a bit flaky, and quite attached to her designer shoes and handbags, Gracie Elliot is one of those characters who would drive me crazy if I had to meet her, but she’s hilarious in print. Her inner dialogue shows enough self-awareness that her flaws become funny rather than obnoxious. Her involvement in solving a crime is refreshingly up-front and intentional. She thinks the fastest way to get the murder of a client in her senior match-making service solved is to jump in and do it herself—and make her husband help. As with any amateur sleuth mystery, there’s an element of the implausible requiring suspension of disbelief, but within the context of the plot, characters and setting, Gracie’s actions and motives work, and so does her husband Blake’s more reluctant involvement. Their marriage is a delight for the reader, full of wit and affection.
That said, there’s nothing saccharine about this cozy mystery. Some cozies are just too cozy to live, and I can’t finish them. This one is tart rather than sweet. Gracie is a sharp and critical observer of her fellow humans’ appearances, personalities, mannerisms, fashion sense and home decor—which is an asset in the both the mystery and the comedy departments. As well as being an aficionado of quality handbags and shoes, she’s a former fabric designer (laid off and desperate to make a living—hence the senior dating business), and she can assess a woman’s income and lifestyle from her living room and her clothes and accessories, which makes Gracie a suitable detective for the particular crime she’s looking into. I was so amused by the parade of suspects, especially the ones with bad taste, that I didn’t care which one of them had done it.
Gracie aspires to become a romance writer, and her observations on learning the craft of writing add an extra layer of enjoyment for a writer reading the book.