There’s something so exciting about a book set at Christmastime when it’s a book in a favorite mystery series. You get to see the characters you’ve come to love at a time of celebration and family gatherings. If you’re especially lucky, there’s snow, and lucky you are, as it does show up at just the right time in this story. Of course, even with it being the busy season of Christmas preparations, the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, has a whole lot more going. In The Case of the Absent Heirs, the WISE women have officially taken on a new case and unofficially gotten involved in a community problem. The Chellingworth Estate is jumping with activity, including the time growing near for Duchess Stephanie to have her baby. There are holiday visits to be made to family by the WISE women, and there is Stephanie’s parents coming to visit at the manor. Annie, Mavis, Christine, and Carol are taking their trips to see family during the holidays and have a case to wrap up by the New Year. A Christmas dinner at the main hall for all the WISE women and their significant others and the Chellingworth family is an event that must happen according to plan, and the Dowager Duchess Althea has some Christmas surprises scheduled for some exact times, too.
The WISE women are presented a job by a solicitor handling a local farmer’s estate. He has been unable to locate the man’s heirs, his triplet sons. The sons are grown men and seem to have vanished into thin air, and in order to inherit, they must be found by the first of the new year and sign documents. The women decide that, despite being busy with their upcoming family visits and the Christmas Day celebrations at Chellingworth Hall they are attending, they can manage this one case, too. How complicated can finding the sons be? As it turns out, it not only will be complicated but dangerous as well.
There are always multiple threads winding through the WISE Agency books, but I don’t find it hard to keep up at all. Events in life don’t happen in a vacuum, so it’s only natural there’s lots going on, and at Christmas season, the obligations and activities are increased on a tight schedule. Because the WISE women leave no stones unturned in their investigations, their new case is proving to be more of a challenge than it originally seemed. The Case of the Absent Heirs takes the search beyond the village of Awen-by-Wye, as the three brothers seem to have scattered to different places. London, Scotland, and Wales are possible places where the triplets have landed. Luckily, Mavis is visiting her sons in Scotland, Christine has a townhouse in London, and Carol will be close to the place in Wales that needs checked out. This simple fill-in case for the end of the year grows more sinister by the day. Soon, lives are in danger, as settling old scores comes into play.
Annie has another mystery she’s trying to unravel. Someone has been leaving unwelcome packages outside of village residents’ doors, glued to their steps. The packages contain clues to some secret each person has hidden from others. The items pointing to the secrets are malicious in intent, and it’s a distressing situation for the village of Awen-by-Wye. Annie unofficially takes it on as a case, with the help of pub owner and boyfriend Tudor, both having received packages themselves. Someone is targeting good people with this cruelty, threatening their peaceful existence.
Meanwhile, at Chellingworth Hall, Christmas preparations are underway, with a very pregnant Duchess Stephanie trying to keep her worry-wart husband Henry Devereaux Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, calm. Stephanie’s parents have come to visit for Christmas and for an indeterminant amount of time after the baby is born. Henry is not looking forward to his in-laws’ open-ended visit. With the arrival of the parents, a third plot is introduced. It involves some associates of Stephanie’s parents and her concern about her parents’ involvement with them. The WISE women will help Stephanie with her concern, as yet another pressing matter falls in their lap.
As a fan of this series, I especially enjoyed the personal revelations about the WISE women’s relationships with their families and their partners in this book. The Christmas visits were a perfect means of providing more insight into family dynamics. Mavis and her sons were particularly interesting to me. Mavis is still the practical, organized person she always is, but there is a softness in her with her sons that isn’t apparent in her work life. Christine’s and Alexander’s relationship also receives some close scrutiny in this book, and readers will learn if the couple can overcome the challenges to a long-term future. And, Tudor and Annie have to be one of my favorite couples in my fiction reading. The pub owner and the sleuth seem made for one another, and it’s one of those sweet romances in which both participants deserve some hard-earned happiness in life. Carol and her husband have the couple relationship that is the most solid. I love how they are so considerate of one another and how they both love being with their child.
This series continues to give readers intriguing plots built around an outstanding cast of characters who are ever evolving and adapting. The setting of Awen-by-Wye in Wales is a major draw for me, a setting I’m not overly familiar with from other mystery/crime books. The Case of the Absent Heirs is once again a clever, comforting tale from author Cathy Ace, who knows how to tell a story. In this book #6, cases get solved, but there is also a lot about relationships that gets explored and moved forward. For me, The Case of the Absent Heirs accomplished much but never seemed too much.
Addendum to my review:
Something I sometimes like to include in my reviews for those who might just be coming to the series is my short description of who the WISE women are. So, here it is. The WISE women are a diverse group of private investigators who, despite their different backgrounds and skills, work brilliantly together. WISE is comprised of one Welsh woman named Carol, who is a whiz at culling information from the computer and assembling it for use; Irish Christine, who is a titled Irish aristocrat with a sharp mind and lots of helpful connections; Scottish Mavis, a retired nurse of wounded soldiers and the organized leader of the group; and English Annie, whose warm and unassuming nature can get almost anyone to open up to her. Those who underestimate these women, like the police and criminals, learn the foolishness of that mistake.
And, how the WISE women started. The WISE Agency has a close, like family, connection with the Duke and Duchess of Chellingworth, and the Dowager Duchess. Their first case was for Henry Devereaux Twyst, the eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, and it is through this case that the women became ensconced in the community of Anwen-by-Wye. They even have their offices in a converted barn on the Chellingworth estate, and Christine lives in an apartment in this barn. Mavis lives with Althea, the Dowager Duchess, in the Dower House on the estate. So, the Chellingworths and the WISE women have become an integral part of one another’s lives.