Peril at Owl Park
Peril at Owl Park
We never did go back to sleep and we were famished by half past six. Lucy felt brave enough by then to scurry down to the kitchen to ask for cocoa. Poor Dot brought up a tray the size of a sled, with a pot of cocoa, ramekins of coddled eggs and a stack of hot crumpets under a tea cloth.
“If you want anything more,” she said, “you’ll have to go down to the breakfast room.”
Hector sniffed a small bowl of preserves. “Blackberry, Miss Dot?”
Dot blushed. “You don’t call me miss, Master Hector. I’m under-parlormaid, so just Dot. But yes, that’s one of Cook’s special jams, that is.”
“This is a majestic breakfast, Dot, thank you,” I said.
We tucked in. It was one of the best meals of my life, sitting by the fire wrapped in a blanket with snow whirling outside.
“And!” said Lucy. “No adults.”
“And,” said Hector, “an attempted burglary to consider.”
“And, it’s Christmas Eve!” I added. “With a company of actors coming to deliver tableaux to our very own drawing room.”
“I expect they’ll use the ballroom, actually,” Lucy said. “I didn’t take you in there yesterday, but it’s much bigger and grander than the drawing room.”
There you have it: a main protagonist called Agatha (Aggie for short), who has a best friend Hector Perot (any resemblance to Hercule Poirot is absolutely intentional), and a Grannie Jane (not featured in above excerpt), with a fund of stories to parallel any mysterious circumstance à la Miss Marple. Set in a huge manor house isolated by a snow storm, we have a house party which includes a troupe of actors, a mysterious foreigner and his English wife (university and school friends of the lord and lady, respectively), and three very inquisitive children. Add in a large emerald with a curse upon it and finally a body lying in the library in a pool of blood, et voilà! You have the classic ingredients of a Christie thriller.
Aggie’s sister Marjorie has recently married Lord James Greyson and has decided to host a Christmas party which includes her young sister, a friend of hers, and her husband’s young cousin, as well as the group of actors, and another couple. This assemblage creates a nicely limited slate of suspects when the children discover a body in the library in the course of the treasure hunt for their Christmas stockings, provided you ignore the servants, which mostly they do.
In proper Christie fashion, the one murder becomes a murder plus the theft of the emerald, or perhaps it is the glass copy of the emerald which has been stolen, and the disappearance of the man who was its custodian. Did I mention the disappearance also of a bottle of chloroform used to treat toothache? Suspicion falls on almost all of the characters in turn – even Lord James, though that doesn’t last long! – until finally Aggie and Hector manage to deduce the truth and convince the rather dim and certainly inexperienced police inspector of the logic and, therefore, the truth of their conclusions.
Readers first met Aggie and Hector in The Body Under the Piano, the first of the “Aggie Morton Mystery Queen” series. Jocelyn’s Peril at Owl Park is a very good, very spoofy, pastiche of a Christie novel. Unfortunately, it is not a style or genre of which I am particularly fond! Therefore, I find it hard to be completely fair in my assessment. As is consistent with the mystery genre, the characters are mostly stereotypes: Lucy the bratty blabbermouth, Mr Fibbley/Miss Truitt the intrepid reporter who will do anything for a story, Hector the impeccably mannered, always hungry, lover of logic, Mr Lakshay Sivam the shifty foreigner, Dr Musselman, the incompetent and disorganized doctor whose little black bag of instruments and remedies is so muddled that something can disappear without his knowing how or when. Only Aggie, herself, with her love of stories and her ability to invent scenarios to fit any set of assumptions, is a character of any depth. However, the formula works, as formulae so often do, and provides an entertaining read for young mystery enthusiasts who will then move on to the “real” Christies with a sense of homecoming and thus begin the transition to reading so-called “adult” books. Definitely Peril at Owl Park is one to put on a gift list for your pre-teens.
The illustrations, mostly small black-and-white vignettes at the beginning of each chapter, offer fun without adding a great deal to the story. However, the "rogues gallery" of characters at the beginning of the book is splendid, well worth going back to as you meet someone new in the text since the portraits tell you a great deal about what to expect from each.
Mary Thomas, who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has worked in school libraries before they all stopped functioning to become classroom space during times of Covid-19. She knows how much kids like mysteries, the gorier the better.