Agatha and Macavity winner Churchill once again brings the Depression era to appealing life in her latest well-plotted cozy (after 2001's Someone to Watch Over Me), set in Voorburg, N.Y. Siblings Robert and Lily Brewster, genteel victims of the '29 crash, run a guesthouse at Grace and Favor Cottage. On the eve of the 1932 presidential election, a "Mr. Smith" offers Robert and Lily $500 as a down payment on rooms for himself and three of his "business associates," who wish to hold a private meeting over several days. Can these men be gangsters, desperate Hoover supporters plotting to stop FDR at the last minute, or even Reds out to disrupt the election? Badly in need of cash, brother and sister reluctantly agree to the arrangement. When one of their mysterious guests gets murdered in his bath, Robert and Lily have even more cause to regret their decision. The victim turns out to be Brother Mark Luke Goodheart, a scoundrel who preached love and goodwill on the radio while fleecing the poor, the indigent and orphans. Lending some mild suspense are the disappearance of a local school teacher, the brief kidnapping of the boy Joey Towerton and Joey's mother's wait to learn whether her husband has been killed while working on Hoover Dam. Older readers will especially enjoy this look at dire times now safely past. (June 17) FYI: Churchill is also the author of The House of Seven Mabels (2002) and other titles in her Jane Jeffrey mystery series. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A "Grace and Favor Mystery," this novel focuses on the case of the murdered evangelist. Lily and Robert Brewster are a brother and sister left destitute as a result of the Depression. Fortunately, they are taken in by their wealthy great-uncle who allows them to live in his mansion. When a local schoolteacher leaves unexpectedly, they are called upon to work as substitute teachers. They enjoy their time with the children as well as following the political events surrounding the presidential election involving Hoover and Roosevelt. Their lives are disrupted when a secretive and mysterious group of boarders comes to stay at the mansion, and it's leader, the Reverend Goodheart, turns up dead. On the case is police chief, Howard Walker, who spends his days interrogating potential suspects while Lily takes notes on what he discovers. Goodheart turns out to be not so goodstealing money from parishioners, raping several female employees and abandoning his son. As a result, several individuals have vendettas against him. In the end, a double identity is revealed, and the case is solved by the chief with a bit of help from Lily. Although the story itself is interesting and thoughtful (although rather predictable), the intended adolescent audience may find little resonance in the tale. Bogged down in details regarding politics of the time, centered around characters who are more adult than young adult, and told in a distant third person narrative, the novel lacks an immediacy often present in well-written novels for teens. 2003, HarperCollins, Ages 12 to 16.
"You won’t have to look at the body," Voorburg-on-Hudson police chief Howard Walker assures Lily Brewster (Someone to Watch Over Me, 2001, etc.) of the corpse in her B&B, in what could stand as a signature line for this cozy period series. As an anxious nation waits for Governor Roosevelt to unseat do-nothing Herbert Hoover, Lily and her brother Robert, born to privilege but ruined in the Crash, face (or don’t exactly face) problems closer to home. Lily’s premonition that the stranger who wanted to rent her biggest room for his group’s private weekend conference was up to no good is abundantly justified when the group’s head honcho, now identified as radio preacher Brother Mark Luke Goodheart, is stabbed and drowned in Lily’s nicest bathtub. Chief Walker naturally responds by shipping all the surviving cronies of Goodheart, né Charles Pottinger, off to Matteawan. Lily, meanwhile, is already in a tizzy because she and Robert have just started a new job substituting for Millicent Langston, a local schoolteacher who isn’t where she said she’d be. More briefly missing is little Joey Towerton, kidnapped for a few hours while his mother Mary waits to learn whether the "Rick Taughton" killed at work on the Hoover Dam was actually her husband. Though this byplay generates no more suspense than wondering if your self-rising biscuits are really going to rise, Churchill really does pull all her subplots together, which is more than you can say for President Hoover.