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Mrs. Jeffries and the Feast of St. Stephen    by Emily Brightwell order for
Mrs. Jeffries and the Feast of St. Stephen
by Emily Brightwell
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

The household of Inspector Witherspoon is complete again, and just in time for Christmas. After several months away, helping an old friend in Australia, Inspector Witherspoon's coachman Smythe is back in London. He arrives in time for the Inspector's latest case: Stephen Whitfield has collapsed, poisoned, at the dinner party he was hosting.

Because the victim is a well-to-do member of the upper class, the police are under pressure to solve the case quickly before Christmas. Gentle Inspector Witherspoon really doesn't like murder, and his cases have been made even more stressful by the enmity of his jealous colleague. Inspector Nivens' resentment has deepened as Witherspoon continues to succeed, and he is making more and more overt attempts to undermine the man he sees as his rival.

Unbeknownst to Witherspoon, his domestic staff is largely responsible for his success. From Mrs. Jeffries the housekeeper to Wiggins the footman, they have all become enthusiastic detectives. Although a few outsiders know the truth, they are at pains to keep their activities secret from their dear Inspector. However, the staff is finding this case as much a puzzler as the Inspector and his sergeant. There appears to be no motive for Whitfield's murder; every lead they follow evaporates.

As Christmas Day approaches, the Inspector is forced to admit that he is stymied. A man of principle, he is prepared to hand over the puzzle to one with a fresher eye. Nivens, of course, considers himself the logical successor to the case, totally oblivious to his own incompetence. The staff is horrified at the prospect, but they have no solution to bring to their Inspector's attention. Even Mrs. Jeffries, whose intuitive leaps have saved the day on other occasions, is at a loss. At the very last minute, as Witherspoon is about to request his superior to relieve him from the case, Mrs. Jeffries sees the solution. Once again, the Inspector's reputation is secured, and a sullen Nivens is forced to retreat.

Mrs. Jeffries and the Feast of St. Stephen is an entertaining read. Brightwell has come up with an ingenious plot and also capably juggles a large cast. Much of the appeal of cozies lies in following events in the characters' lives. Smythe's departure at the end of Mrs. Jeffries and the Best Laid Plans was a shock; and he is having a battle regaining Betsy's trust, especially as he left on the eve of their wedding. We will have to wait for future tales to find out what happens to the appealing household staff and their friends.

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