"A Small Hill to Die On" by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Penny Brannigan's riverside spa in the idyllic Welsh village of Llanelen-- not far from the actual North Wales seaside city of Llandudno-- is humming along at a nice clip.
Readers of this series, presently in its fourth volume, will recall that Canadian expat Penny, also a sketch artist and painter, started her professional life in Llanelen as a manicurist, residing above her small business.
She later inherited a cottage in town from a dear friend and mentor and then partnered with another friend, Victoria Hopkirk, to repurpose an abandoned building, in which the ladies' evolving business now offers full beauty services.
Not, however, "fake bakes," or salon tanning. In this story, Penny's up against a chain competitor out of Birmingham, England, a woman who has moved her prat of a husband and her surly teenaged children into the once-elegant manor house on the edge of town.
The reader quickly suspicions that one of this obnoxious bunch is going to bite it-- and that doesn't mean fingernails.
Furthermore, what's transpiring up at the manor, besides the bickering?
And who is the mysterious older woman roaming the woods and hedges around the estate? As it happens, she possesses quite a back story.
Oh, and what's this about all the dog-snitching around town?
Toronto author Elizabeth J. Duncan carefully layers her plot with multiple storylines, which all tie nicely into a whole. Penny proves as likable a "looker into" as ever, as inside on the investigation as her detective amour, Gareth Davies, will allow, strictly by the book. Naturally, she's concerned about her business, and the dogs, and ultimately that old woman in the woods.
The author drops her clues with precision. Modern forensics rule the day, but don't overlook the importance of out-of-place objects.
Once again, the depictions of Llanelen and its environs offer generous return-visit appeal, enough to position North Wales on one's bucket list.
Shows how smart Penny is-- she never left.
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