Written by Sheila Connolly — Cosy mystery fans will be familiar with the work of bestselling American author Sheila Connolly. She’s probably best known for three sets of books – The Glassblowing series, The Orchard series and The Museum series. Her last book, Let’s Play Dead, continued the Museum series and came out in 2011.
Connolly’s latest release is something of a departure from her previous work. Reunion with Death follows a group of 40 former college pals on a trip to Italy, more than 40 years after they graduated. The story is told by one member of the group, Laura Shumway, who recounts the details of the trip after the event.
As a student, Laura was an Art History major, but her career path took her in a very different direction. For her, this trip is about reconnecting with old friends and revisiting her love of art, which she’s had little time to indulge over the years. However, when she stumbles across the body of a former tutor who was invited to join the group and to give a lecture, she is not convinced by the official verdict of accidental death. Something about the body just doesn’t add up. So Laura decides to probe into the matter, opening a can of worms that could wreck the reunion. Could one of her companions be a killer?
As enjoyable as this book is, it does seem more like a road trip than murder mystery. You’re instantly drawn into the tour itself with detailed descriptions of the places the group visits and the food and shopping breaks they indulge in along the way. The victim is briefly introduced but is summarily dispatched just before the halfway mark with only a very brief glimpse of his character – he’s an ageing Casanova.
Beyond our narrator’s encounter with him, where he uses his charms to no effect, we learn about his disreputable character through the rumours that circulate about him. One thing is very clear: his passing is not greatly mourned by the group. The phrase ‘moving swiftly along’ seems more than apt when it comes to their attitude to his death. After a brief discussion with the organisers as to the appropriate way to acknowledge his death, they carry on with the trip.
Laura’s enquiries reveal that his death was far from accidental. She and some of her fellow travellers begin a discreet investigation, and it becomes clear that any one of the women had a potential motive to kill. However, the trip itself is still very much the prime focus, and you aren’t really afforded the opportunity to follow the clues and attempt to solve the crime. The reveal, although logical, seems more of a neat tying together of all the story threads.
Fans of Sheila Connolly’s novels will undoubtedly savour every moment of this book. For those new to her writing however, it may receive a mixed reaction. The lack of any real focus on the investigation certainly lessens the intrigue. Like I did, though, others may just enjoy this book for its descriptive settings, meanderings into the world of art history, and its gentle, engaging writing style.
Beyond the Page
CFL Rating: 3 Stars