A Racing Murder by Frances Evesham

Title: A Racing Murder (A Ham Hill Murder Mystery #2)

Author: Frances Evesham

Published on: 15 June 2021

Genre: Cozy Mystery

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Racing Murder is the second book in Frances Evesham’s Ham Hill Murder Mystery series.

Set in the fictional village of Somerset countryside, the series features Imogen Bishop, a widow who owns The Streamside Hotel, Adam Hennessy, an ex-cop turned pub owner (The Plough), Steph, a journalist and Dan, an artist. All four characters are in their mid-fifties.

Belinda Sandford and her grey racehorse Butterfly Charm thunders past the finishing post first at Wincanton Racecourse. Diane, Belinda’s mother is happy for her daughter’s first win but soon the cheering stops and Diane learns why. There’s a Stewards’ Enquiry.

Belinda and her rival Alex come face-to-face at the stewards’ enquiry and it is decided that Alex won the race. The Butterfly Charm Syndicate, a group of wealthy people who sponsor the horse are staying at Imogen’s hotel – and so is Diane. They insist on celebrating Belinda’s win – she’s come second but a winner is a winner, right? During the celebrations, police come over and question Belinda.

There has been a death at the stable – Alex is found drowned in a trough. Belinda insists she’s innocent. Her mother Diane is worried about her teenage daughter’s racing career. Belinda’s father succumbed to cancer eighteen months ago and Belinda found a way to deal with grief by being around the horses. Her mother doesn’t want that to be snatched from her dear daughter. She asks Adam to help prove her daughter’s innocence.

I read the first book of this series A Village Murder two years ago. The third book of this series, Harvest Murder, is releasing in a week and I thought why not catch up with the series. A Racing Murder is slowly paced – so was the case with book #1 too.

A murder at racecourse, well this is a trope that I haven’t come across much. When Alex is found dead, people are quick enough to point fingers at Belinda. The Butterfly Charm Syndicate are supportive of Belinda but they do know that angry and jealous teenagers have no control over their emotions. In other words, they ‘forgive’ Belinda if her actions led to Alex’s death.

When Belinda’s mother asks Adam for help, he’s in two minds. He’s not in the police force anymore. When he discusses this with his friends – Imogen and Steph, they say they would help him out. Alex’s incident was reported in a local paper – by a journalist named John Harris. John was present when Belinda and Alex returned from the stewards’ enquiry. Alex had introduced him as an ‘uncle.’

As the story proceeds, we see there is some confusion about Alex’s death – was it murder? Or, was it accidental death? The police do not know yet. Though the post mortem results are out (in the second half of the book), they want to keep an open mind. Now, this is something I did not like. If nobody is ready to accept Alex’s death as accidental or murder, then what is it? Why is Adam and team doing a bit of amateur sleuthing?

Keeping an open mind – if it turned out to be a murder, bring the killer to justice. If not, rule it as accidental death and case closed? Hmm… Not something that I would expect in a mystery novel.

There are too many characters and it was difficult to remember their names and follow their side stories. James, John, Henry, Harry (or was it Harris?) – I found the naming conventions a tad confusing. There were plenty of side stories. TBH, some felt unnecessary and dragged the story a tad.

There’s a bit of romance too. Adam and Steph, Imogen and Dan. Adam is shy and does not want to tell Steph how he feels about her. Meanwhile, Imogen feels attracted to Dan. As teenagers, Imogen and Dan were in love but her father fired Dan from the job, ending their budding love story. Years later, Imogen finds herself smitten by Dan. But Dan, well, he’s in a world of his own – work comes first. I wonder if Adam and Imogen make a better pair than Adam and Steph. Hmm!

Coming to the ending, it was quite unexpected and shocking all right. But it just did not make sense. I appreciate the red herrings and the angle of ex-lovers, jealousy and anger playing a major role in Alex’s murder but the identity of the killer – goodness, that came out of nowhere.

I might not have liked the ending and the story might have felt a tad dragged at times, but overall, A Racing Murder by Frances Evesham was an enjoyable read. A slow burner cozy mystery so if you are the kind of reader who reads books for the enjoyment factor, I definitely recommend this series. I loved it and I am looking forward to reading the next book.

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