Book Review: The Withdrawing Room

The Withdrawing Room, by Charlotte MacLeod. Five out of five stars, a tip-top comfy and clever cozy mystery. This is one that stays with me for comfort reads. Original copyright 1980, I think it’s also out on Kindle now, but very much worth tracking down a paperback if you can. There’s nothing quite like leaning back with a hot cup of cocoa and the madcap antics of someone struggling to keep a business afloat and still find out if any of their tenants is a murder suspect.

Note, this is the second book in the series (after The Family Vault), but it was the first one I read when I found this author *cough* decades back. I recc’ the whole series, though one or two of the later books aren’t as funny as the earlier ones; I never could get into The Palace Guard. I definitely recc’ all of the Peter Shandy mysteries by the same author.

So what makes this book such a great comfort read? Several factors. The first being a set of memorable and eccentric characters (and suspects), the majority of which are decent people with manners.

(I’m seriously feeling the lack of everyday manners in society lately. Reading a book where people use them is a nice mental vacation.)

Second, the main character and accidental sleuth, Sarah Kelling. Left widowed and in serious financial trouble by the shenanigans of certain now-deceased relatives (covered in book 1), she’d decided to fight for the finances she has left by turning the ancestral Boston townhouse into a high-class boarding house, putting on a show of a hostess with grace and elegance while, behind the scenes, acting as chief cook and bottle-washer to get the work done. The book expertly conveys the sense of frantic determination and word to deal with grief, without ever descending into despair. It is an emotionally healthy book; part of the message being that it’s perfectly normal and okay to break down crying washing the dishes, as long as the minimum of dishes do get washed.

And then, of course, there are the murders. This is not a gory book. The murders happen “off screen”, and while there’s enough description that you can imagine the carnage if you must, there’s no blood shoved in your face. Someone’s died. It might just be a horrible accident….

Of course, it’s not. And in the course of figuring that out we get to meet a cast of characters that include an elderly woman with a keen eye from salvaging things to get by, a gypsy fortuneteller, an art detective, and enough social gossips to run a bar out of Long Island Iced Tea.

I personally like that it’s a very efficient book. 188 pages, and the story does not wrap up the last details until that very last page. Then it stops. Just in the right place for you to put the book down, take a breath, and slowly come back to reality instead of 20th century Boston.

All told, a comforting, well put together mystery that’s fun to read over and over again.

(And who knows; maybe someone reading this will be inspired to write a modern mystery with good manners. Rebuild the culture, one book at a time!)

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Withdrawing Room

  1. My go-to cozy mystery is The Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews. Meg is a blacksmith (she does craft fairs, Renn fairs, some conventions, and on commission. She is also down to earth and practical, which her family knows, appreciates, and needs. She has what she calls her “binder that tells her when to breathe”. Basically all her to-do lists, numbers, addresses, and random miscellania. The titles are mostly bird puns and the conclusion of the mystery is always satisfying. I think that this is a series that you would enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Being polite to people that you agree with is easy.

    Politely remaining silent when you disagree can avoid conflict, but it can also falsely give the impression of support.

    The true mastery of politeness is being able to tell someone they’re an idiot… politely.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. (I’m seriously feeling the lack of everyday manners in society lately. Reading a book where people use them is a nice mental vacation.)

    Come to Iowa.

    Be monday friday shocked by folks having manners and odd times, and be happy. 😀

    (we spent 20 minutes arguing about if a guy flashing his lights was an idiot bad driver trying to scold us, or an elderly driver trying to HELP us get over who flashed his lights every time we signaled to get over and, and he hadn’t gotten the whole “get over AND slow down” for stopped vehicles. LOT of stopped vehicles, none of which he got over for, or stopped cruise control for….)

    Other than that, I can’t think of a maybe-rude in the last six months.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Having found a sample of the first book and read a few chapters in, I suspect I know _exactly_ what kind of financial trouble Sarah’s going to have by the end of it. Caroline isn’t exactly subtle about it, after all.

    Which now has me wondering how I’d do it. Telegraph the obvious issue, foreshadow a second issue that becomes the threat when the first is revealed to not be happening, then have a third problem nip in and be the actual financial calamity?

    -Albert

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Respect to Charlotte MacLeod. I guessed some of the shape of the problem, but not the deeper issues. Good plotting on her part, to raise expectations in one direction while twisting things in another. Now I’ve got to reread the first book and see what clues she laid down that I missed.

      -Albert

      Like

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