Start with England in the 1930s. Add the author of tomes ranging in subjects from penguins to ponies, lighthouses to lilies, churches to chimneys. Stir in a war-weary lost soul as the assistant. Send them off across England's thirty-nine counties in search of 'all the good things' of each place to record in a series of guidebooks. Sprinkle in a dead body or two and you have a delicious recipe for a mystery series.
Swanton Morley, known as The People's Professor, knows a lot of things about a lot of things. He often quotes Latin, Shakespeare, and throws in a Bible verse or two for good measure. He would certainly be a winner on Jeopardy. His ongoing prattle about subjects that have nothing to do with the conversation or events at hand is a constant, although brilliant, annoyance to his assistant Stephen Sefton. (As well as, I suspect, to the reader. I know my eyes sometimes race through some of the professor's ramblings although I hope I am not missing any clues!)
Mr. Morley is rigorous in his daily routine. He keeps an egg timer beside his typewriter and types away in spurts of 15 minutes. His writing philosophy: 'Avoid haphazard writing habits. And avoid haphazard writing materials.' He even has a desk fitted out in his automobile so no time will be wasted while motoring from village to village.
It is my desire merely to set down a record of this place before its roots are cut and its sap drained, and the ancient oaks are felled once and for all. I do not wish England - our England - to be unknown by future generations... A celebration of England and the Englishman. From the wheelwrights of Devon to the potters of the north, from the shoe-makers of Northampton to the chair-makers of High Wycombe...
Sefton has returned to England from fighting in the Spanish Civil War and has been unable to settle back into British life. He refers to himself as 'impoverished and rootless' until he answers The Professor's help wanted advertisement: Assistant (Male) to Writer; be prepared to travel; intelligence essential.
Ian Sansom, author of this series, has thrown these two fellows together and seems to be having a great time letting their two distinctly different personalities and quirks unfold for the reader.
The first of the guidebooks, The Norfolk Mystery, finds this unlikely duo in Blakeney where, upon minutes of their arrival, they come across the body of a reverend hanging by the neck from a bell-rope in the tower of St. Nicholas Church. Was it suicide or murder?
I have a ways to go yet to find out the answer to that question. In the meantime, I am enjoying meeting some of the characters that may or may not be suspects and that Morley and Sefton interview in an effort to determine what happened and so be on their way to exploring other spots in Norfolk.
The second book in this County Guide series, Death in Devon, is out and the third installment, Westmorland Alone, will be available in the United States in September. Mr. Sansom also writes the Mobile Library Mystery Series, the tales of which take place in Ireland. I would also like to give those mysteries a try.
There are small photographs included in the book which is quite different for a mystery series. I assume they are of places in Norfolk in keeping with the guidebook theme. I find them to be a nice addition to the story.
If you are looking for car chases and a dizzying amount of action this series most likely won't be for you. But you can safely add them to your list of Cozies!