Friday, October 12, 2018

Murder in Spite (A Doyle and Acton Mystery) by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review

First, I feel the need to advise readers who are just starting this series that you might want to avoid this review. It’s impossible to hold back certain details of the story at this point in the series that might spoil it for readers who enjoy the building upon one story to the next in series reading. Plus, there are characters from past books whose prior stories will be helpful. And, the Doyle and Acton series is just too wonderful of a series to not start at the beginning. 

Oh my, it’s a holiday at last for Scotland Yard detectives Kathleen Doyle and Michael Sinclair/Lord Acton, a visit to Kathleen’s homeland of Ireland. And, with baby Edward in tow, there is a “retinue” of others along, including the nanny Mary and her daughter Gemma, the butler Reynolds, and a security detail named Trenton. It seems an awful fuss to Doyle, but as usual, there is more afoot than meets the eye, as she soon discovers, and the retinue will grow in numbers. Acton continues to try to protect Doyle from the knowledge of what’s going on behind the scenes, but Doyle is a dogged investigator into her husband’s scheming. Maternity leave from her job as Detective Sergeant at Scotland Yard hasn’t dimmed her fey abilities one wit, and although Acton is a Chief Inspector with many resources at hand, Doyle always sees through his subterfuge.

No sooner do they arrive off the boat when a murder takes place on the very steps of the Dublin Garda station. It is a person of infamous familiarity to Acton and Doyle, a priest who was involved in a sex slave ring back in London. As often happens when Acton is involved, this murder is just the first event in a connect-the-dots catastrophe he must try to fix, while hiding it from Doyle. A trip to the St. Brigid’s orphanage, established by funds from Acton at the convent where Doyle attended school as a child brings, little comfort to Doyle, as one of the nuns dies and begins to haunt her with cryptic messages in her sleep. Soon a dead Bishop from London joins in the nightly haranguing, and Doyle tries to put the pieces together from her dreams and Acton’s evasive actions to make sense of it all. Throw into the mix a baby who is constantly hungry and a cab driver from Africa and a jilted fiancĂ© and someone who is a surprise enemy of Doyle’s, and the complete picture arrived at is a “crackin” web of far-reaching threads. Anne Cleeland is a master at having lots of lines tossed out in a story and cleverly bringing it all together. One of my favorite devices that Cleeland uses is the short sentence or two that is at the beginning of each chapter. In the past, it has been Acton’s thoughts we are privy to, but in Murder in Spite, it is the thoughts of someone who means harm to Kathleen Doyle and son Edward. These thoughts ramp up the suspense for the reader with an urgency not known to the characters working their way through the maze of clues.

Doyle is an absolute delight, as usual with her sense of humor and ability to deal with Acton as no one else dare. This couple is one of my all-time favorites in my reading, and I can’t wait to see what they get up to next. I suspect that Acton will continue to over-estimate his ability to keep his misdeeds secret from Doyle. And, there are so many fascinating minor characters, such as DI Thomas Williams and DS Isabel Munoz, who have gained readers interest and investment. Anne Cleeland is one of the best authors I read at character development, and the plots, are, as I mentioned earlier, complex but masterfully resolved in an exciting trip through deceptions. Add witty and engaging dialogue to the mix, and you can be assured that Murder in Spite is another hit in this successful series.

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