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Shrouds of Holly: Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries    by Kate Kingsbury order for
Shrouds of Holly
by Kate Kingsbury
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2007 (2007)
*   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

It is Christmas, a magical time of year; and the staff of the Pennyfoot Hotel, picturesquely located in the English countryside, is busy with festive preparations. Cecily Sinclair Baxter, owner of the Pennyfoot, is overseeing the work inside while her husband and their hotel manager Samuel are out cutting holly. All is ready for the guests, except for the holly and her husband's arrival. The horse and trap return without the men, and in the trap is a dead body. The victim is a well-to-do neighbour, who has recently inherited a nearby estate.

Cecily organizes a search with the aid of her loyal staff. Samuel is found with a head injury but no memory of what happened. Baxter remains missing. Headstrong Cecily begins her own investigation, persisting in spite of shadowy threats. Her friends and staff ably back her, which is fortunate in view of the lack of assistance from local police representatives. They are pursuing a shadowy criminal plot originating in London, while Cecily is convinced that the culprit is local. In the end, she untangles the mystery and finds her errant husband safe and well. Christmas at the Pennyfoot is saved.

The setting of Shrouds of Holly is charming, a traditional hotel just after the turn of the century (1900s, not 2000s). I found the pacing rather uneven, slow-moving at times and the ending seemed to come rather fast. Cecily's concern for her husband is understandable. Even so, her lack of concern for Samuel's well-being is jarring; she drags him into dangerous situations ignoring his misgivings and his still fragile health. More to my liking were Gertie, a maid, and her budding romance with the butcher. Overall, Shrouds of Holly is a pleasant read, just in time for the holidays.

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