Sunday, May 13, 2007

My Cousin Death - Mary McMullen

First published 1980; cover shown is the 1989 first paperback edition by Jove Books (UK). Cover art by Sally Vitsky. 186 pages.

On a rainy day in rural Ireland, Paul Kinsella sets out from Leam House on a mission. Amy, his first love, is dying of cancer, and her only wish is for Paul to spend four days with her at her country estate. The visit is purely platonic, but Paul keeps it a secret from his wife, Bel. When Amy commits suicide a few days after his return home - after making a new will and leaving him her entire fortune - he is shocked, but still says nothing to his wife.

Fast forward nine years or so, and Paul has been dead for over a year. Bel is approached one day at Leam House by a shabby little man named Upshaw. Paul was photographed on his secret visit to Amy all those years ago, and Upshaw has the proof of their "affair". If Bel does not hand over a large sum of cash, Upshaw will go public, ruining the family's reputation and starting a legal battle over the will with Amy's relatives.

Unsure who to turn to and what to believe, Bel installs Upshaw in an unused maid's room and tells the rest of the family that he's a distant cousin, visiting for a few days. Upshaw keeps a constant eye on Bel, while Bel quickly descends into heartbreak and depression, almost culminating in her suicide.

While Upshaw takes up residence, a second story is unfolding. Conor Niall - a real cousin this time - visits from the States when he hears that Sara Parry is staying at the Leam House cottage. His relationship with Sara had ended as abruptly as it had started, but he has not been able to stop thinking about her. Returning to Ireland, he discovers that Bel's son, Fitz, is intent on marrying Sara - and that the local lord of the manor has quite possibly orchestrated two recent murders and is masterminding the trafficking of marijuana to Europe.

As with all McMullen mysteries, a lot happens in a very short time. Along with her excellent characterization and sense of humour, this makes for a highly readable story.

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