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The Spring Cleaning Murders: An Ellie Haskell Mystery    by Dorothy Cannell order for
Spring Cleaning Murders
by Dorothy Cannell
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 1999 (1998)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Ellie Haskell is proof that there is romance even after the ball. (Her Cinderella story was told in the hilarious The Thin Woman). Some years later, Ellie is content with her life, her two adorable children Tam and Abbey, and still-adoring husband Bentley. The household also includes her happy-go-lucky cousin Freddy, and elderly gardener Jonas, whose status is more that of an uncle or grandfather. Another important component of the household is cleaning lady Mrs. Malloy, who holds Ellie to an exacting standard of behaviour.

Absorbed in her desire to clean Merlin's Court from top to bottom, Ellie is nonetheless forced to realize that she cannot accomplish this alone. However, Mrs. Malloy abandons her since she is needed in London to look after her new granddaughter Rose, who is also Ellie's second cousin. (Mrs. Malloy's son married Ellie's gorgeous fashion-model cousin, Vanessa.) Mrs. Malloy recommends Ellie to a fellow member of the Chitterton Fells Charwomen's Association ( C.F.C.W.A.). However, the lady dies, supposedly in an accidental fall. A second replacement is found with a knife in her back. What fell secret is decimating the members of the C.F.C.W.A.?

Concerned about the havoc that is being wrought amongst her friends and neighbours, Ellie joins the ranks of the C.F.C.W.A., armed with some delightfully quaint cleaning agents she made up from recipes recorded by an earlier owner of Merlin's Court. Of course, this is a pretext for snooping into the homes and affairs of said friends and neighbours. She finds a wealth of secrets and mysteries, the majority of which are red herrings that have no connection to the deaths. Ellie's attention is also diverted by her energetic twins, the crisis facing her husband's restaurant (an all-out attack by vegetarians protesting the use of meat), her worry about Jonas's failing health, and the irresponsible behaviour of cousin Vanessa, who is finding motherhood less than satisfying.

Cannell has a well-earned reputation for rollicking mysteries, peopled by a wealth of eccentric characters. The Spring Cleaning Murders is certainly entertaining; Cannell presents some serious themes leavened with humour and satire. Ellie is a generous woman, and the members of her family and household are sympathetic. (However, I find that a little of Mrs. Malloy goes a long way.) The author juggles several plot elements with ease and resolves them all satisfactorily. What is particularly admirable about Ellie is her acceptance of people for what they are, with tolerance and compassion. The Spring Cleaning Murders is a pleasant read, much preferable to the activity itself!

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