(23. - 1128.) Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby - “Prepare to be astonished” was a blurb from the New York Times on Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. It was an amazing book introducing one of the great sleuths of crime fiction in Maisie. I consider the phrase apt for describing Mindful of Murder.
The book begins:
Edna Todd was in love with herself and had been for a long time.
At 72 Edna has completed “Plan A, which meant she’d finally, at long last, decided what to do with the Yatra Institute, her retreat centre, which she loved almost as much as she loved herself”. a long time.
Moments later, after taking her nightly dose of “liquid magnesium and calcium” she is dead. She has been poisoned.
Helen Thorpe, 5’10” tall, has just graduated from the North American Butler Academy which was in the business of “creating specialists in domestic excellence”.
On graduation night Helen, a non-drinker, has taken care of her fellow graduates. They love her as she has a calmness that relaxes those around her. At the same time she is always alert and prepared to react instantly.
Helen was a Bhuddist nun before going to care for an ailing mother and, after her mother’s death, going to work at Edna’s New Age retreat centre. She is called back to deal with the estate. She is led to believe Edna chose to end her life.
Helen is told she is responsible for carrying out Plan B as the estate lawyers have no information Edna had completed Plan A. Under Plan A Edna decided which of certain relatives would take over the centre. In Plan B it is for Helen to evaluate the selected great-nephews (brothers Tad and Wills) and great-nieces (Whitney and Rayvn) who are to take three courses offered at the centre. She is to decide if any of the quartet should be in charge of the centre. The four are not told they are being judged.
Helen and her butler friends, Murray (a young woman) and Gavin, agree the process is like a reality T.V. show.
Murray and Gavin come to help Helen for “any sane person would recognize three butlers are better than one”.
Joining the butlers is Nigel, a young enthusiastic man with no discernable skills. They set out to educate him in butlering.
In the Arranging Your Inner Flower course the instructor, Jenson Kiley, advises:
“As we teach you to arrange your inner bloom, what we are really doing is asking you to become floral communicators.”
It was interesting reading about “the fundamentals of shape and height and colour” in creating floral arrangements that are “an expression of what is in your heart”.
The second course is Devi Dance in which the quartet, in the words of their Scottish instructor Wayfarer, are to “be swept into your bodies’ most powerful energies”.
The third course on meditation, Meet Yourself, Lose Yourself, is taught by Helen.
The evaluation process is so interesting I almost forgot there was a mystery involved in the plot.
One of the flower course exercises was to write your own eulogy “written from the perspective of someone who loves you”. After determining their dharma - “their deepest purpose and your desire to fulfill that purpose” - from the eulogy they are to design an arrangement reflecting their discerned life purpose from what was available in a spot each chose on the retreat grounds.
Mid-way through the book the trio of Tad, Wills and Whitney provide a clever twist to the plot.
The characters are remarkable in their diversity. What they share are vibrant personalities. Some are over the top memorable.
During her investigation Helen attends a meeting of the local Death Positive Club of which Edna had been a member. At the meeting the members, all living, are sitting in coffins they have designed.
The butlers are so gifted at unobtrusive anticipation. They are mindful at all times.
Helen is an unlikely sleuth. She is not naturally an intrusive person and has a “pronounced aversion to unpleasantness”. While her reserved manner is perfect for being a butler it is a rare quality in a crime investigator. Her investigative talent is curiosity. She likes knowing why. She has done hundreds of interviews with people engaged in meditation. I was reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, another quiet mindful sleuth.
No reader will forget Helen and her butler compatriots, Murray and Gavin. I longed for a butler to “organize my domestic affairs”. Then I remembered Sharon and I have had a butler on some cruises and will have a butler again on our upcoming cruise. My next post will discuss what a butler can do for you.