by Judah Lamey
What Stories Letters May Tell introduces us to James Frost, Butler and overall Houseman of the Brottie Mansion. While the doyenne of the Estate, Agatha Brottie, is benevolence itself, her children; Addison, Evie and Orson together with Ruby, Addison’s wife are vile, morally bankrupt beings. James is bracing himself for their yearly week-long visit which normally involves drunken scenes and arguing. However, even he fails to predict the scandal that will arise this time …
What Stories Letters May Tell is a deceptively clever, lively little read. It has all the hallmarks of a traditional whodunnit; rambling country pile, eagle-eyed and sharp eared servants and the usual collection of appalling house guests. James is well-realised without being a cliché and all the characters and indeed, the plot have a fresh, contemporary feel despite the clear homage to the genre. The prose is nicely detailed and slightly stylised with a seam of wry, observational humour that has a natural jaunty rhythm complementing the narrative perfectly. I think Mr Lamey had a lot of fun writing this novella, it does not take itself too seriously and the plot is not too convoluted but there are enough little twists and conflicts to keep you guessing. Indeed, I thought the culprit was someone quite different although in hindsight, you are given crumbs of clues.
The book is novella length, and although I could have happily read more, I thought the brevity made it a neat, tailored read that reflected the character of James himself. All of the characters are convincingly written with subtly nuanced dialogue; you immediately recognised the Brottie children without any of them becoming caricature. The only exception was Kalynn, I thought she was a little under-developed and I did feel the end was possibly a touch rushed. However, if you love old-school upstairs/downstairs whodunnits in the style of Christie, Allingham, etc., What Stories Letters May Tell is well worth a read – I believe two of the character names are a nod to Mses. Christie and Allingham and I suspect there are other carefully woven references.
An entertaining, amusing and skilful novella that I really enjoyed. Highly recommended.