Ellie Quicke

(creator: Veronica Heley)

Veronica Heley
Ellie Quicke is a recently widowed middle-aged English woman, aged fifty when we first meet her, who lives in Ealing in West London in a semi-detached house and gardens that face St Thomas', a pretty Victorian Gothic church where, despite the fact that her husband Frank had "always said I couldn't hold a tune to save my life," she is persuaded to join the choir. She is a "pillar of the church" and reliable coffee-maker - except when her detective work intervenes. She "was neither tall nor particularly slender, and at fifty-plus no model agency would have looked at her, despite the fact that her short curly hair had turned a most attractive silver and she had good skin."

Her retired husband Frank, with whom she had sometimes had a rather difficult relationship and who had "made all the decisions for both of us", had died just before the start of the first book. He had left her "comparatively wealthy" (with over one and a half million pounds). They had one daughter, Diana, who gets more and more demanding and is a constant cause of concern to her mother. They had had a hard time bringing her up. At first they had had to scrimp and save to support Frank's Aunt Drusilla. Then Ellie had had five miscarriages.

She makes a shrewd but friendly investigator who is "usually right about people". As her local vicar, whom she subsequently marries, tells her, "Your practical Christian loving-kindness shines through". Described as Ellie the Peacemaker, she "could always be relied upon to do all the jobs that nobody else wanted to do". She explains that her success in solving crimes was achieved "by chance, by asking around in the neighbourhood and occasionally being able to put two and two together." She makes a strong and interesting character.

Veronica Heley (1933 - ) is married to a retired probation officer and has a musician daughter who has long since left home. She is actively involved in her local church and community affairs in Ealing, West London. She explains that some people accuse her "of ‘being’ Ellie Quicke, who is prematurely silver-haired, never learned to drive, and is still rather unsure of herself". She is a full-time writer who has published over 64 books. Her output includes twenty books for children.

Murder at the Altar (2000)
Murder at the Altar starts two days after the funeral of Ellie Quicke's husband. Ellie is fifty. Her struggle to come to terms with what has happened and to re-establish herself is convincingly described - and then a body is found in the church opposite her house, and she becomes involved in the hunt for the killer. Tension is maintained throughout by the presence of two sinister characters, including a mysterious fat man in a Saab who keep her under observation, and they attempt to seriously hurt her on the instructions of an anonymous woman. Unfortunately, this woman remains unidentified even at the end of the book, when it turns out that she is not even a character whom we have met. It seems bit of a cheat.

Ellie has problems of her own too, mainly centred around her selfish and demanding daughter Diana who puts Ellie's house on the market without even telling her and announces,"You can't stay on here, and that's flat. Stewart (Diana's husband) and I discussed it at length after the funeral. You've never lived alone and can't be expected to cope now. We've found a nice little one bedroomed flat for you, fully furnished and at a reasonable rate .... As for your furniture, well, if there's anything small that you particularly want to keep, I daresay that will be all right. Stewart and I will have Grandad's bureau, of course ..."
Ellie sank into a chair, leaned back and closed her eyes. "Diana, you are not listening. I'm not going anywhere. I like it here. I have all my friends here. Why should I move?" In fact she knows all too well why Diana wants her to move: half the value of the house will go to her.
But Ellie has no hesitation in facing up to Mr. Jolley, the belligerent estate agent who still tries to insist that the house has officially been put on the market. It makes for another lively exchange of dialogue: "My keys, please," Ellie demanded.
"I'm afraid that they are with my assistant, who is even now taking someone round ..."
"I expect he has a mobile phone. Ring him. Get him back here. Return my keys, and we'll say no more about it."
"He may already be showing someone round the house. It is a prime property. Selling this would give you a nice bit of capital. You could afford to buy something really exclusive with the money ..."
"You underestimate me, Mr. Jolley. A neighbour is house-sitting for me at the moment and he will not be letting anyone in during my absence. Please ring your man and get my keys back."
He caved in, as bullies always do. "Of course. Please take a seat."
He is a smarmy git, if ever there was one, thought Ellie. She was surprised at herself for even thinking such a thing.'

There is also her late husband's equally demanding Aunt Drusilla who keeps phoning her with imperious instructions: "There's a nasty smell in the larder. That woman of mine never does it properly. At least you can be trusted to use some disinfectant on the job."
"I'm afraid - " began Ellie.
"I shall expect you tomorrow at nine o'clock. Don't be late!"
Ellie put the phone down and "made faces at the receiver. She was not going to turn herself into a drudge for Aunt Drusilla. No way. She had never liked the old bat, didn't see why she should put herself out for now. Besides, she was planning to go into the charity shop tomorrow.
Feeling both guilty and is elated, she rang Aunt Drusilla back.
'It's me again. I'm sorry, but I can't come round tomorrow. I'm due at the charity shop.'
Aunt Drusilla was not pleased. 'Is that really more important than - '
'Yes, I'm afraid it is. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but for the next few days I'm going to be rather tied up....' "
Ellie comes across as very much a real person. She is realistic about her late husband too. Much as though she misses him, she admits to herself that "Life with Frank was not a bed of roses. He was a good man but he always thought he was right about everything."

Ellie is nothing if not observant, as when she who demands to see the identification papers of a man who claims to work for the gas board and is trying to get into her house to check out a non-existent gas leak.
"Are gas board employees allowed to smoke on the job? You've got the butt end of the cigarette lodged behind your right ear .... So where are your papers?"

It is not always entirely convincing (as when Ellie and her neighbour are nearly blown up by a booby-trapped car, or when Ellie knocks out an intruder with a frying pan). But it is entertaining and easy to read.

Murder by Suicide (2002)
Murder by Suicide describes how Ellie Quicke, who has been a widow for just three months now, gets involved in the search for the writer(s) of poison pen letters that have started to spread through the parish, and are to lead to much suffering and anguish - even death. Ellen acquires a new admirer, Roy Bartrick, a newly retired successful architect who is a newcomer to the area. . He is one of several suitors but the only one who gets as far as slipping his hand under her skirt. She then discovers that her late husband's Aunt Drusilla is not the near pauper that she always claimed to be
, but the owner of a whole block of flats which she had purchased one by one. Drusilla would like her to look after these flats, but it is her well-nigh impossible daughter Diana, not Ellie, who really wants the job.

It all starts by being both realistic and interesting, but then Diana gets so upleasant to her mother that it begins to pass belief: she bullies her remorsessly, even reorganising her house without her agreement, throws out her mother's vital papers as well as some of her old kitchen utensils, and moves her furniture out of her bedroom so that she and her husband can use it. She also aggressively questions her mother's suitors as to their intentions! The final straw comes when she holds a wild party in her mother's house, so that even Ellie can put up with it no more.

Ellie finds that "Praying helped. Offering up a voice in the choir helped, too. She would survive." And so, of course, she does. What with the pressing demands of Diana, and Roy, and other potential suitors, she has a busy time of things, and all this is described in an amusing way. In fact, it gets quite farcical at times, what with her doorbell constantly ringing and potential suitors finding themselves almost piling on top of each other. The plot, though, turns out to be quite slight, and eventually struggles to hold the interest.

We get brief descriptions of the poison-pen writer(s) at work inserted in italics, a device that works quite well here, but gets less effective when repeated in later books. Then Ellie is sent a "wax effigy of a woman clad in blue with a silvery thatch on her head. A long pin secured a drawing of a crab onto its torso. A crowd meant cancer, didn't it? Someone hated her enough to wish her dead of cancer." So Ellie hurries off to have a blood test to convince herself that she has not really got it. And as a result, she almost gets murdered by a mad woman. This conclusion seems quite over the top and altogether too melodramatic. It just does not fit in with the author's cosy story-telling style.

Murder of Innocence (2003)
Murder of Innocence describes how widow Ellie Quicke is devastated to discover that 10-year-old Tod, who often used to visit her to play on her computer and be fed by her while his single mother was away at work, has disappeared. Police and neighbours are convinced that Gus, a pathetic homeless man, is responsible, and when Ellie takes him in, she too becomes the target of prejudice. It is Ellie who soon discovers where the unconscious, beaten and sodomised Tod has taken refuge, and eventually tracks down his true attacker.

It makes a gripping story, and Ellie herself, often feeling beleaguered on all sides, attracts the reader's sympathy and understanding. It is full of surprises too, although some of them like the melodramatic finale, or the way that police and social services seems so little involved with Tod's immediate welfare, or the way that he is kidnapped twice, are hard to believe. As is the way that Ellie tracks down the attacker simply by visiting a series of local stamp collectors, eliminating from her suspect list the ones that seem to have children in the house.

But there are some really entertaining incidents as when Ellie withstands her aggressive daughter Diana's plan to move into her house, vanquishes her determined attempt to impose a bullying "carer" on old aunt Drusilla, and questions whether Frank, her late husband, had really ever promised to leave a million pounds, as the church treasurer claims, to build a new church hall.

Ellie herself seems very real, as when she "began to weep ... and weep ... She was so angry with Frank for dying and leaving her. She wanted to scream with rage. And loss. He left a great big black hole in her life. Every now and then she dived into that hole, pulled the covers over her head and let herself go. He should have taken more care of himself. He should have listened to her, had check-ups regularly. It served him right that she wasn't going to build a hall to perpetuate his name ... If she'd known he was squirreling away all that money, she'd have suggested they spent some of it on themselves for a change. Perhaps a world cruise. She would quite like to see New Zealand, where she had a cousin. Bother Frank! Oh, how could he go and leave her?"

When her admirer Roy tells her that she can't possibly allow Gus, the homeless alcoholic, to remain in her house, she replies, "You sound just like my dear dead husband."
"If he were still alive, he'd knock some sense into you."
"So he would .... yes, Frank would have forbidden me to take Gus in, and I'd have gone along with it because Men Know Best. Only, he's gone and left me and I don't like being bullied, even by Roy. Roy means well, I know, and part of me would love to fall at his feet and cling to his knees and have a little weep and have my shoulder patted and be told, There, there, now; you poor little thing, let me take care of you. The other half wants to use a very rude word to him.
She said, "Sit down, Roy. You're giving me a crick in my neck, looking up at you."
'Roy sat on the arm of her chair, putting his arm along her shoulders and taking one of her hands in his. She could see he had decided to turn on the charm.
"Well, I won't allow it, letting all and sundry take advantage of you." He treated her to one of his long-lashed blue-eye stares. It was supposed to reduce her to a simpering heap of pliant womanhood.
Unfortunately it reduced to the giggles. "Oh Roy, you are funny." '

It is passages like the above you that show the author at her best, and make the book so easy and, except for the (only vaguely described) paedophilia, so enjoyable to read. She is much less assured and convincing when it comes to describing violence and perversion, and typically, follows the melodramatic finale with Ellie's cat, Midge, making a beeline for a buffet.
"Oh, Midge." said Ellie. "Whatever am I going to do with you?" It's back to a cosy world again. Even so, this is one of the better books in the series.

Murder by Accident (2003)
Murder by Accident starts with a big surprise: it seems that Aunt Drusilla has met her death in an electrical accident. But is it credible that such an experienced author should dispose of one of her most lively and interesting characters in this way? Not in this sort of cosy story, anyway. But someone has died and the police become suspicious of both her and, particularly, her daughter Diana, who has now taken up with the unscrupulous house agent Mr. Jolley and is planning, as always, to get her hands on Aunt Drusilla's money. It is Ellie who eventually works out which of Drusilla's acquaintances have motives for attacking her. It is a wide field because Drusilla demanded very high standards from her work-people and always "enjoyed arguments", so had upset many of them.

Drusilla herself is, despite her apparent death, still "extremely intelligent". "You had to get up very early in the morning to cheat (her) and get away with it. Diana had never been that good at getting up in the morning." It is this sort of gentle humour that runs throughout the story and makes it all so easy to read, as long as you don't try and take the plot too seriously.

We get frequent interruptions (in italics) from the unidentified (crooks), and, as a literary device this gets increasingly tedious. But there are some really amusing incidents as when one of two questioning police officers repeatedly addresses Drusilla as "Dearie" until he is firmly put in its place.

Ellie herself continues to develop as a character. As her friend Kate tells her, "Over the last six months you have changed a lot. You've stopped being a downtrodden housewife who thinks men always know best, and become a personage in your own right." Encouraged by the portly new vicar, whose nickname Tum-Tum has quickly spread throughout the parish, she slips into church to pray, but finds that she cannot stop thinking about the case in hand. "I should be praying ..." she thought. "Then relaxed. 'What was the use? If Jesus was here, He knew all about it and would forgive her wandering mind .... Ellie eased herself to her feet, and looked up at the cross on the altar."
"Sorry, Lord," she said. "A bit preoccupied today. hope you understand."
He seemed to smile.
"Well, thanks, anyway. And ... see you again soon." She'd come in with a lot of questions and was leaving with more. That was her fault, she knew. Not His.'

The climax, in which Ellie confronts a gang of hooligans, is the least convincing part of the plot. It provides too glib and cosy an ending to a generally entertaining story.

Murder in the Garden (2004)
Murder in the Garden tells how the skeleton of a girl is found buried in the neglected garden next door to Ellie's. The owners of the house, who are friends of Ellie, are appalled, and the police cannot identify who the victim is. Ellie has to dredge her memory about previous occupants of the house before she finally identifies who it must be. Meanwhile the killers (whose actions are again inter-cut throughout in brief passages printed in italics) haunt the vicinity, determined to find somebody else, such as Ellie or her dead husband, on whom to pin the murder.

Ellie herself is an engaging character, and the author gets the old-fashioned neighbourly Anglican background just right. Characters, like the local vicar, Thomas, "known to his intimates as Tum-Tum because of his rounded figure" are described with real affection. It is he who "knew what she needed better than she did" and gave her the key to the church so that she could slip in to pray, although "She didn't know what to pray about in the present situation. God knew all about it, of course."

The battle between her aggressive daughter and indomitable Aunt Drusilla really comes to life when her daughter gate-crashes a party and Drusilla, the hostess, tries to put her in her place by deliberately down-grading her, providing her with poor fare, just served on kitchen plates. Diana has a young toddler called Frankie, and it is Ellie, of course, who was often left to look after him. All this is vividly described.

Ellie cannot approve of the sort of life her daughter has led and does not hesitate in telling her so: "You do worry me, Diana. A self-centred life is no recipe for contentment."
"Oh, if you're going to preach the Bible at me ..."
"Remind you, yes. God's laws are wise and, if we disregard them, we pay the price. You conceived a child by a man with whom you'd had a passing affair, and when you were threatened with a miscarriage, you made sure that the baby would die."
And so she goes on until Diana tells here, "Go to hell!" It is nothing if not a fraught relationship, during which Ellie even wonders if Diana herself might have been the murderer.

It is not even twelve months since Frank had died, but this is already the fourth case that Ellie has had to investigate. She still has two male admirers - but a new marriage is still far from her thoughts. So far. It makes a light-weight story, but is all very chatty and undemanding.

Murder by Committee (2005)
Murder by Committee starts with Ellie Quicke being asked to visit Sir Arthur Kingsley, whose dog has died after eating poisoned pizza. He turns out to be a powerful and extremely unpleasant business tycoon who believes that he was the intended target, and that an old enemy was responsible. Ellie has other problems too: Aunt Drusilla's health is failing, her own bullying daughter Diana is in financial crisis, and her architect cousin Roy is mixed up in one of the tycoon's shady deals, involving the redevelopment of the local vicarage site.

Unfortunately, characters like the business tycoon, his downtrodden wife, and his thug Marco, emerge as little more than caricatures, and when the wife goes to live with Ellie, and the business tycoon falls in love with the scheming Diana, the story gets even more unlikely. Tum-Tum, the vicar, is an impressive figure, experienced, wise and ever-encouraging (so much so that Ellie decides to call him Thomas) - but perhaps a little too good to be true. As is the ever-faithful Rose, Ellie's friend and enthusiastic cook and housekeeper to Aunt Drusilla.

Ellie herself is becoming ever more resourceful since she "had discovered the truth in the old adage that if you stood up to a bully, they caved in. Her aged aunt Drisilla had responded well to this treatment and Ellie was now fond of the once-dreaded old dear. Ellie's daughter Diana was a tougher proposition than Aunt Drusilla, and Ellie couldn't claim that she'd fully mastered the art of dealing with her." So she is quite prepared to stand up to the rude Sir Arthur: "You remind me of Pooh-Bah, or Lord High Everything, a character invented by W.S. Gilbert. You probably don't know The Mikado, though I expect your mother taught you manners when you were a child."

There's a lively confrontation too when Ellie summons up her courage to confront the chairman at a church meeting to reveal that Sir Arthur was intending to build six luxurious apartments that would make him a fortune on the site of the old vicarage, and gets his plans delayed. It makes you want to stand up and cheer.

However the slow moving plot and general lack of excitement make this one of the least interesting books in the series. The treatment is altogether too gossipy, and the feud between two rival tycoons does not provide a strong enough story to hold the interest. In the end it all fizzles out.

Murder by Bicycle (2006)
Murder by Bicycle describes how a mysterious bout of sickness hits the parish after a lunch at church, and Ellie is horrified to discover that her home-baked quiches are thought to be the source of the problem. Then one old man is admitted to hospital and dies, and Ellie sets about discovering who was really responsible for the poisoned food. She has other problems too as her daughter Diana's relentless demands continue (she insists on sending a stream of would-be purchasers to Ellie's house despite the fact that Ellie has no intention of selling it - an idea that the author has used before and that soon gets tedious). Ellie also has to decide whether or not to get engaged to an old admirer, and all the time she is plagued by toothache.

The unlikely plot is not helped along by frequent interjections from the real poisoner. These passages in italics are much longer than in previous books and provide much more information, but their melodramatic style fits in uneasily with the gossipy tone of the rest of the narrative. And by revealing the poisoner's identity early on, the author really gives away her trump card. She is at her best with light-hearted descriptions of family and friend relationships, and her attempted portrayal of a murderous madwoman totally lacks conviction.

She is particularly fond of incidents in which Ellie, hoping for a bit of peace and quiet, is, as in previous books, invaded by visitor after visitor, all piling in one after another. And she obviously enjoys describing Ellie's "romances", as with Bill Weatherspoon, her "longtime friend and family solicitor, monkey-faced and slightly old-fashioned", who proposes to her. She "liked him enormously" but when he comes to call for her, she is a few minutes late: "He welcomed the peck on the cheek that she gave him, but was clearly annoyed that she'd kept him waiting.
'I thought I said seven o'clock.'
'You did. Sorry.'
She didn't like this. She'd spent half her married life apologising to people because she hadn't measured up to what they wanted. It was a trap which was far too easy to fall into, even now."

Then there was the popular Thomas, the portly local vicar, who embraces her when she needs comforting, and of whom she was "extremely, warmly fond". And there's her cousin Roy - but he has now fallen in love with a young widow, another friend of Ellie's.

Ellie is at her best when it comes to understanding people, as in the passage when Bill tells her: "I phoned my daughters last night and broke the news to them that I had proposed to you, and that you hadn't turned me down outright .... I think they were rather surprised that their doddering old father was thinking of getting married again ..."
'Ellie interpreted this to mean the girls were alarmed to think that their father might leave his money to a step-mother when he eventually passed on.
"... but said they thought it was a good idea, particularly as you weren't some equally doddering old lady ..."
Ellie had no difficulty in interpreting this, either. The girls thought that a younger step-mother could take over the nursing of their father when he got to the stage of being incontinent or terminally ill.'

But you get the feeling that the author is running out of new ideas, and indeed she even repeats herself as when we are twice told (in italics, of course) about the murderer arranging the "suicide" of her husband, using exhaust fumes in a garage, so needing to find another method of disposing of her next victim! And the plots get increasingly absurd.

Murder of Identity (2007)
Murder of Identity describes how Ellie Quicke, out collecting some Portuguese laurel for formidable flower arranger Mrs Dawes, steps on part of a half buried dead body. The next day, she goes on to discover Mrs Dawes herself lying badly beaten and close to death. Much to Ellie's dismay, the police think shaven-headed Neil, Mrs Dawes' grandson, is responsible, and he gets arrested. Meanwhile Ellie's ambitious and unscrupulous daughter Diana has gone into partnership with an equally aggressive estate agent, causing her once again to neglect her young son, Frank. And Thomas the vicar seems to be becoming more and more important to Ellie.

It all gets increasingly predictable. Once again, italics are used to tell us what the unconvincing villain is thinking (he even talks about his "cash flow problem"); Diana is still busily erecting For Sale signs outside Ellie's house; Ellie is prevented from attending an important function, in this case a wedding, by an insistent phone call from Diana demanding her immediate help; and five-year-old Frank is again dumped at Ellie's for her to look after. Then there are the usual arguing relations, all conspiring to get their hands on some old person's wealth. So it is very much the mixture as before.

It is Diana who, finding Thomas the vicar consoling her upset mother, tells her, "I thought that clergy weren't supposed to cuddle their parishioners. It lays them open to all sorts of gossip."
"A cuddle in time saves many a breakdown, said Thomas. "Your mother is eminently cuddleable, in my humble opinion." It is hard to take this seriously.

Then later on, after Thomas has been up all night with a friend dying of cancer, Ellie wonders what to feed him: "She'd give him scrambled, not fried eggs: better for his digestion. Bacon, a couple of sausages which she'd been saving for her lunch today, mushrooms ... bother, there were no tomatoes. She could have some of the scrambled eggs herself. Double quantity of sliced bread into the toaster. Butter, spreadable. Marmalade, home-made. Or would he prefer jam or honey? He could have marmalade and lump it. Tea or coffee, that was the question. Usually he drank strong dark tea with milk and sugar, but coffee might be better in view of the state that he was in. But she couldn't find any good ground coffee, though she was sure she'd bought some couple of days back. Tea would have to do." And so it goes on, sheering away from a mention of cancer to something much more cosy.

Eventually Thomas is left snoring in a big armchair. "Mercy me," said Ellie to herself. "What a turn-up for the books. Who'd believe we weren't having serious nooky, if they saw him now? Well, I don't care. I like the fact that he came to me to help." It is at this gossipy sort of level that the author seems happiest.

The story, despite the addition of a few more corpses and a violent attack on Ellie, still lacks any real sense of excitement. The not very convincing police still refuse to take Ellie seriously, and are determined to take the easy way out and blame everything on Neil. As she sees it, "The only person who seemed to care was one silly middle-aged woman (herself) with a bad habit of poking her nose in when it wasn't wanted. Well, the silly middle aged woman might not be brilliant, but she could at least do something to help." And so she does, and more by good luck than management, once again identifies the murderer.

However, as the author puts it, after Ellie herself has been sent flying through the air in a vicious attack, "It was unreal. Ellie couldn't make sense of what was happening." You can't blame her.

Murder in the Park (2007)
Murder in the Park starts with Ellie Quicke's friend Felicity witnessing a pit bull savaging a young mother in the park. She goes into shock and calls on Ellie for help. Ellie's enquiries indicate that the dog and its owner are strangers to the neighbourhood, but soon there are other attacks. Meanwhile, Ellie's personal life is much upset as her difficult but endearing Aunt Drusilla is fading fast, daughter Diana is taking dramatic steps to ensure that she inherits the family wealth, and Thomas - upon whom Ellie has come to rely for companionship and support - wants to leave his parish. Faced by all this, Ellie hardly has time to hunt down a killer dog and has no idea that she is the next target - until the police accuse her of setting fire to her own house, and, in a sequence of remarkable coincidences, both her houses are broken into by the vicious teenager who is at the heart of the mystery.

Ellie herself comes to life as a real person: "Fiftyish and prematurely silver-haired, she (had) discovered the pleasures of independence, made some good friends, and once or twice even stood up to her dreadful daughter Diana." And we really get involved in the lingering death of Aunt Drusilla. "No tears, by request," she tells Ellie, remaining resolute to the end.

One character who remains consistently over-the-top is Diana, who, complete with tame solicitor, even descends on her dying aunt in an attempt to force to change her will. But, to the reader's delight, Aunt Drusilla very wisely locks herself in the bathroom. You certainly feel involved in all this,and relish Diana's defeat when the terms of the will are eventually read out.

Diana's five-year-old son, Frank's, dilemma at being split between two feuding parents is well described, even if the way he boasts that, "Mummy says I'm not going back to my old school and I've told all my friends there that I won't be seeing them again because I'm going to be so rich that I'm only going to be playing with boys who live in big houses in future" does not ring quite so true.

Thomas comes across as a very real, caring and compassionate priest, so it's very pleasing when Ellie eventually gets round to proposing to him! Less interesting are the basic plot, and the passages in italics tagged on to the end of chapters telling us what the villainous murderous teenager is up to. The plot is unlikely, to put it mildly, and it is only by chance, and not by detection, that Ellie eventually identifies the criminal.

It is hard to believe that the policeman, whom Ellie had previously christened Ears because of the way his ears stuck out, would start a conversation with her, just after her house had caught fire, with "Well, well, has Ellie been a naughty little girl, then?" And then he goes on to bully her: "What I think is that you have committed a particularly nasty crime, and I'm on your trail. I'm not going to let you get away with it, understand? I think you set fire to your own home because you needed the money from the insurance .... You had a confederate, didn't you? To give you an alibi?" It is all too absurd, as is the melodramatic but "happy" ending.

The very last pararaphs in the book suggest what the author really likes writing about: Thomas tells her,"You are one very independent, capable woman, Ellie Quicke."
She was astonished. "Gracious, am I?"
"Yes, you are."
"She couldn't think how he'd come by such an extraordinary idea of her character, but decided to let it pass. After all, he was the wisest person she knew so perhaps, in time, she'd become the strong person he thought she was. As her mother had always said, never reject a compliment. Now, what should she wear to get married in?"

The interplay of human relationships, particularly those between Ellie and her friends, including her Aunt Drusilla and her live-in companion Rose, make this an interesting book to read, and you cannot help but feel involved in Ellie's constant struggle to ward off her scheming daughter's desperate attempts to get her own way. So, all in all, it is one of the better books in the series.

Murder in House (2009)
Murder in House tells how Ellie and her new husband Thomas (who now has a full-time job editing a national church magazine) are called in to deal with Ursula, a young student, who has staged an unlikely sit-in at church and refuses to move. Ellie soon finds she has three mysteries to solve: Ursula's broken engagement, her friend's disappearance, and the possible murder of a young man who is said to have thrown himself from the top of a new block of flats. S
oon Ellie finds that a powerful group is trying to hunt her down, together with her family and friends. Meanwhile, her ever-demanding daughter Diana has made herself homeless, and her architect cousin has landed up in another financial mess.

The scheming villains contribute their usual italicised additions to the narrative, this time making mysterious references to "The Man" who gives them their orders. It all sounds rather corny. Nevertheless there is a stronger and more coherent plot than in previous books and altogether less time for general chat. Ironically, it is this general chat with its human touches that the author deals with best, as when Ellie reflects on "how strange matrimony could be. It wasn't all cuddless in the bedroom, or companionship, or facing problems together. It was about adapting oneself to someone else."

Ellie, despite her happy marriage, sounds rather less tolerant and well balanced than in previous books. She still helps people, but she describes one of them as "a stick insect" and there was another that "irritated her profoundly" and of whom a little "went a long way".

Sometimes Ellie sounds as though she might be voicing the author's own thoughts, as when she complains about the iPhone that Diana had surprisingly given her at Christmas. It was "a grand new, all-speaking, all-dancing mobile", but Ellie "was frightened silly by the new instrument, which was sleek and slender and would show you television programmes and doubtless also put you in touch with the stars, if you so wished. There were so many functions on it that you needed a degree in further mathematics even to turn it on. ... Ellie didn't see the point of owning a gadget which was a lot cleverer than she was."

The old business about Diana managing to get hold of the keys to her house is repeated yet again. And Diana, ready to try anything or anyone, bursts her way into her house where Ellie finds her "trying to wind her legs around Thomas and in that instant she (Ellie) shed all her inhibitions, and gave way to the age-old instinct to fight for her mate. If Diana thought she could make a fool of Thomas, she had another think coming!" And so she pulled her off him.

It does not really sound too likely, nor does the way in which, after throwing Diana's belongings out into the drive, and being asked by a laughing Thomas, "Would Madam have time for some food now?", she "snatched the (food) tray from him and threw it with all her strength across the hall. Soup splashed richly across the panelling. Sandwiches flew across the floor. Plates broke. Cutlery scattered. She screamed, as loudly as she could, 'Aargh!' "

Eventually, with the help of her good friend Kate's business expertise, she identifies the master criminal, an important local councillor, and confronts him at his own party, with a local photographer flashing away as she leads Ursula in, wearing a hood which is drawn back a litle way 'revealing a face that was not hers ... a face that bore a life-size photo' of the raped girl.
"I am the girl you destroyed".
'All eyes went to the pale-faced, sweating man. "No, no!"
The stout woman who had been standing near him whipped her head round to stare .... at the councillor, who seemed to be shrinking inside his clothes.
"And impregnated. Was it your baby, Councillor?"
"My God! No!"
His wife backhanded him. "So that's what happened when I had flu and you came home reeking of sex? You swore you'd been with a prostitute!"
.... The camera flashed, the councillor's wife seized him by one arm and hauled him to his feet. "You pitiful little worm!" The camera was right in her face. She spoke to the room at large. "He'll resign tomorrow." '
But can you believe a word of it?

Murder by Mistake (2010)
Murder by Mistake describes how Ellie Quicke takes in a young rape victim, Mia, well aware that the commitment might become a burden to her and her husband Thomas, but not expecting it to become an invitation to murder. Given her past history, it seems odd that she could not anticipate this! Although Mia's rapist stepfamily are in prison, violence still seems to dog her every move. Mia's best friend Ursula is eager to help, but is distracted by her upcoming wedding – as is Ellie's ever-ambitious daughter Diana who also wants a wedding reception at Ellie's house - and on the same day. As the blurb asks, “If one wedding can turn a household upside down, what havoc will two do to Ellie's quiet home life? Most important of all, can she wear the same outfit for both?” This last question is a complete giveaway, emphasising (rather unfairly, I think) the complete triviality of the story.

In fact, the story starts well with a dramatic road accident in which both Ellie and Mia are nearly killed. Or was it more than an accident? But then there's the first of a whole series of italicised passages that appear at the end of chapters: “She should have died, the witch, the bitch. When his mobile had wrong, he hadn't expected to receive a picture of her, back in Ealing! She ought to have died. No ordinary person could have survived. But she wasn't ordinary, was she? She was a witch and ought to be burned at the stake. And so she would be. He'd see to it if no one else did." The messages get increasingly melodramatic and bizarre, but, helped by numerous hints, it's not long before we recognise who the author must be.

Several of the characters are little more than caricatures, although much can be forgiven as they are such entertaining ones. Prominent amongst them is Ellie's outrageously selfish and domineering daughter Diana who informs Ellie that she will be holding the reception for her wedding (to her highly unpleasant partner Denis) in her mother's house this coming Saturday. And she's going to send all the bills to her. Ellie points out to her that she had already arranged to host a much more modest wedding reception that same Saturday for Mia's friend, Sheila. "Well," said Diana, frowning, “I don't see that there's much of a problem. We are booked into the registry office at two in the afternoon, so we can have our reception here at five. That will give you plenty of time to clear away from the luncheon party and prepare for a sit-down meal for fifty at six. Then there'll be a disco in the evening, to which we've invited just over a hundred people.” And her mother is not even on the list of people to be invited! It's quite beyond belief.

Another entertaining character is professional Party Planner, Mr Freddie Balls, “a stately figure carrying a silver topped cane, dressed in a bright pink shirt over grey jeans, and crowned with a mass of carefully curled yellow hair. Gay as a lark.” In fact, he isn't, but helped by his two assistants whom he calls his slaves, he helps Ellie cope with the appalling problem of running two receptions one after the other.

There are dramatic incidents involving another attempt to run Ellie over, and a poisoned cake that is sent to the wedding (from which they are only saved by dramatic action from Midge the cat!), but, with the help of her ever attentive clergyman husband Thomas ("a large, bearded man who looked like a sailor, but was a respected academic" who was still editing a National Christian magazine and speaking at high-level conferences, and never had the slightest cross word for her), she identifies the murderer and helps her daughter at the same time. But, as she herself had prayed earlier, “Dear Lord, I don't understand what's going on here. It's a bit much, don't you think?” Yes it is - but it's quite amusing to read.

Murder in Mind (2012)
Murder in Mind describes how Ellie, who has always disliked local estate agent Evan Hooper, is dismayed to find that her wayward daughter Diana is carrying his child and about to become his fourth wife. But when one of the Hooper children dies in an incident in their private gym and another succumbs to a peanut allergy, Ellie realises that someone is targeting members of the Hooper family. Surely Diana wouldn't… Or would she? But then, Ellie decides. even if "she is the only person I can think of who would benefit from these deaths .... I don't think it's her style."

It is an absurd plot, told in a chatty, light-hearted sort of way, as when Ellie confesses to the reader, “There are several things a mother, however modern, does not wish to hear from a divorced, single parent daughter. 'I'm pregnant' must be top of the list. Or perhaps, 'I'm gay'? Now, there was a toss-up. Which would you prefer?"

The most unlikely characters of all are Detective Constable Milburn, who tells Ellie what is going on behind the scenes and asks her to help her to solve the case (!), and her boss Detective Inspector Big Ears, who had "sticking out ears, which turned bright red whenever he was stressed", and had been given his nickname by Ellie "when he was rude to her at their first meeting, and the nickname had stuck, which hadn't endeared her to him." We are told this on page 27 then all over again on page 124. Could the book have been written (and edited) in a bit of a hurry? Unfortunately, Big Ears is little more than a cartoon caricature who does little more than twice abruptly demand,"Which of you did it?" and is never prepared to listen to anyone. Another character who does not really come to life is Ellei's retired clergyman husband Thomas, who, we are told, is always supportive and concerned about her, but is seldom actually present.

More realistic characters include Evan's determined surviving daughter Freya, and young Mikey, a disturbed but resourceful young boy with whom Ellie manages to make contact.

Every now and then we cut away to sections in italics written by the killer who sounds very pleased with himself. But this device is not very convincing nor is the way that Ellie rescues her new protogees from a house where their lives seem to be threatened by marauding reporters (!) and sets off with them on a frantic mini-cab ride leading to a chase through an Indian restaurant and into another minicab the other side of it. Even after all this, Ellie decided that she "couldn't interrupt him (her husband Thomas) when he was working"!

It all leads up to an absurdly melodramatic ending in which the killer threatens to blow everyone up. Ellie quite rightly comments, "This wasn't either tragedy or comedy; it was farce." She remains the one convincing character - and deserves a better plot.

The author has her own website that not only describes her books but includes advice on "How to Write" and a "Thought for the Month". She says very little about herself on her site, but there is a short interview with her on Keep Me in Suspense.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


Murder at the Altar cover
There are ten books in the series, the first two of which (such as the one below) are being reprinted by Ostara Publishing in the UK in their Clerical Crime series.
Murder by Suicide cover
Page from Murder in House
An oddity of the Severn House hardback edition of Murder in House is its page lay-out. As seen here, there is so little margin at the foot of the page that the text appears about to slip off it. Is this a cunning plot to save paper or just an annoying design? Severn House is a publisher that specialise in small print runs of hardbacks for libraries.
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