A friend in California and I like to give books as gifts, especially finding mystery series that we think the other will like. This year she sent me a book which has the first three titles in the Mrs. Jeffries series.
Set in Victorian England, Mrs. Jeffries is the widow of a policeman who now serves as housekeeper for Inspector Witherspoon, a kindly, well-meaning man who may not be the sharpest investigative mind (to put it mildly). He inherited his house from an aunt and hated to sell it and sack all the household staff, so he’s kept them all on. It proves to be a good move in more ways than one. Not only does he have a comfortable, well-kept home, but unbeknownst to him, he has an investigative team who works to solve his cases.
In the first book, The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries, a prominent doctor has been found dead in his surgery. While the Inspector desperately hopes the death is due to natural causes, it soon becomes apparent that there is foul play involved. It also turns out that the doctor is a blackmailer, which means there are a lot of people with motive.
Fortunately, Mrs. Jeffries is on the case. She employs the household staff to ask questions, conduct surveillance, and collect clues, which she surreptitiously feeds to the oblivious Inspector.
This is a fun series with a memorable cast of characters. The good Inspector is just that: a good, kindly man who is rather in over his head when it comes to investigations; picture a somewhat brighter version of Dr. Watson as played by Nigel Bruce. In the household, the cast includes Wiggins, the young footman who is always mooning after some new girl he’s taken a fancy to, while Betsy the housemaid is eager to show off her own abilities in detecting and showing up Smythe the coachman. (Is there a spark there?) Mrs. Goudge the cook isn’t able to go out and ask questions, but she has connections with most of the tradesmen, delivery boys, and other cooks who supply a steady stream of information. Outside the household, Luty Belle Crookshanks, a wealthy American widow with a colorful way of speaking and a will to get things done, offers advice and assistance. And then there’s Inspector Nivens, who is perhaps a little jealous of Witherspoon’s successes and a lot suspicious as to how Witherspoon manages to solve his cases.
Granted, one needs to suspend belief at times but this amusing, good hearted series can be a good way to pass an afternoon, especially if there’s a cup of tea and a scone handy.