Smile and Be a Villain – Jeanne M. Dams

Jeanne Dams and her Dorothy Martin have been favorites of mine for years. I haven’t read the whole series yet, and in fact was a bit startled to find that this one is the seventeenth book – it’s nice to have a backlog of pretty reliable quick and fun reads, but I had no idea that much time had gone by.

Dorothy is an American ex-pat in England, basically living the life I would claw any random person’s eyes out for. She and retired-Chief-Constable-husband Alan Nesbitt plan to enjoy a vacation on the island of Alderney in the Channel. “Plan” being the key word there, because on their very first day they fulfill the purest destiny of the cozy mystery heroes and literally stumble over a corpse. (As a former cop, he should have known better than to contaminate what might or might not be a crime scene, but that’s all one.)

The dead man turns out to be quite the conundrum. He’s another American expatriate, a priest who has been assisting in the local church and making himself very popular – except where he’s very unpopular. (Dorothy and Alan are told ‘He can’t actually take services, because of course he hasn’t been through the “safeguard” vetting procedure’ – which makes a great deal of sense. I wonder if he would have passed.) The more that is discovered about the dead man, the more likely it is that he was not a victim of an accident. “‘And he became a priest! What kind of a twisted mind could do such a thing?'” But it’s perfect – I’m surprised we don’t hear more stories like it.

“‘I believe that he was a sociopath, a man with no moral scruples, no conscience. When I was working in the police, we occasionally came across such criminals. They were almost always charming people, at least charming when they wanted to be. They could also be vicious, but it was an odd sort of viciousness, with no anger or spite involved, simply a cold determination to have their own way.'” – This quote struck a deep chord with me. I knew that man…

I enjoy the relationship between Dorothy and her Alan. It feels authentic, and their contentment makes for an enjoyable tale.

The writing flows nicely along, including references to Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy L. Sayers and Harry Potter. (No Doctor Who, but nobody’s perfect.) I’m not sure if the murder mystery is all that successful, on the whole, but it’s almost irrelevant – which is a funny thing to say about a murder mystery novel, but that’s part of what makes it a cozy mystery. I don’t remember whodunit, quite (this review is being written longer after I finished the book than it ought to be), and it doesn’t really matter. It’s the exploration of the story that counts, how everyone ended up where they were when a body popped up among the rocks, and what Dorothy and Alan talk about when they go back to the hotel and relax. It’s all about the wonderfully realized setting, familiar and alien at the same time. It really is cozy. Well done.

“As long as you don’t forgive him, your hatred of him will fester. Someone said it’s like giving a person permission to live in your head, rent-free, and mess it up forever.”

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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