I’ve always been very selective with which books I accept for reviews via author request and I’ve been even more so in the last year where work has been seeing me incredibly busy. But, I’m so happy I decided to give Lynn Morrison’s book a try. This is definitely a series that I’ll be continuing.
WELCOME TO OXFORD, WHERE KNOWLEDGE AND MAGIC LIVE ETERNALLY EVERY AFTER
When Natalie Payne accepts the Head of Ceremonies role at the University of Oxford, her first assignment is planning the spectacular autumn gala at St Margaret College. However, her plans are dashed when she finds their famed chef dead in the kitchen.
If that discovery isn’t enough, the cat following her around is actually a four-hundred-year-old wyvern. He’s got news for her: Nat’s a prefect, with the magic of Oxford running in her veins.
Nat’s got to solve the murder, find a new chef for the gala and get to the bottom of why Oxford’s magic is acting up. With the help of her wyvern, a band of Eternals and the savviest assistant who ever existed, Nat is sure to be a success.
But can she do it before St Margaret loses its connection to the magic of Oxford?
Available on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited.
This is not my first cozy mystery set in Oxford. It should tell you a lot about a place that despite reading several books from another cozy mystery series steeped in Oxford lore, visiting twice and reading some bits about the town, the settings and stories described here were still new to me. The descriptions are also not overdone. They are a perfect mix of informative and relevant to the story.
The characters are delightful. We meet H (short for Humphrey— do not call him that) the wyvern who others see as a cat. He’s pretty much Nat’s pet and sidekick. He’s cute, sometimes sarcastic, acts as her guide of sorts and meddlesome, especially after a stout or four! We’ve also got the other prefects, Mathilde and Kate who complement Nat’s personality and then there’s Harriet, the principal’s secretary at St. Margaret, who is efficient, calm and knowledgeable and provides tremendous support for Nat. Oh, and Edward, a potential love interest despite his seeming snooty, aloof exterior.
The magic element is very interesting. The magic acts more as part of the setting than as part of the mystery solving. Nat may be able to see the magic and help control it but she herself can’t perform tricks, per se. The best she can get is info from the talking portraits! Those portraits are also pretty helpful for providing facts about the history of the university. It is through the eternals… essentially ghosts of people who devoted much of their actual life and affection to Oxford, that the magic system operates. I really enjoyed this part of the story.
The mystery to solve is who killed Chef Smythe, a superior culinary expert but generally horrible person. Given her unkind ways, the suspect list is not too short, although the police are confounded by how the murderer got where they wanted to be. We meet several suspects and each seems to have an alibi or another valid reason to be where they were at the key moment in time. The pacing of the clue dropping is a bit slow but interspersed with the secondary story (and larger series issue) of the wonky magic system and how to fix it. The big reveal is an odd mix of exciting, slightly anti-climactic and even sad. I know… my description there makes no sense but that’s honestly how I felt.
There are a couple of issues I wished for more clarification on e.g. what about the empty chef position and how was that catering feat actually pulled off? Also, given H’s crazy behaviour can be ‘magically unnoticed’, why would a friendship among the prefects really raise eyebrows?
But the story closes on a fantastic note with the grand gala, most superbly organised by Natalie and delightfully described by the author. I wished I could attend!
Overall, a truly wonderful start to a new series. I give Murder at St. Margaret’s 4/5 espresso shots.