Murder and Walnut Cake

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For my son Tom. Since it was a vain attempt to match his prodigious literary output that got me into this situation in the first place.

This slightly gushy (and therefore untypical) dedication at the front of Mrs Malory Wonders Why was the first clue I had as to how and why Hazel Holt created Sheila Malory. Thank goodness she did. Her stories about a middle-aged widow who solves murder mysteries saw me through a month in 2017 when two of my sons, simultaneously and both on the other side of the world, were seriously ill. Similarly, in March 2020 when it became clear that a pandemic was unavoidable and we had better hunker down or perish, I hunted out my store of Mrs Malories again. Everyone has an author whose work they turn to when it seems like the end of the world as we know it, and Hazel Holt is mine. She is something of a mystery herself, though.

The twenty-one-book series can’t be easily classified. The cover blurbs of the American mass-market paperbacks that form the bulk of my collection refer to Mrs Malory as a sleuth, conjuring up images of a hardboiled character patrolling the mean streets of downtown LA in a grubby raincoat, rather than a comfortably off grandmother who wears tweed skirts and lives in a thatched cottage on the edge of a small English seaside town.

Her best friend’s daughter is a police inspector who frequently has Mrs Malory helping with enquiries, in a non-euphemistic sense. But the books are hardly crime thrillers. There is neither sex nor violence, only a corpse and the intensely curious Mrs Malory, with her beady eye for detail and instinct for what makes people tick, working out whodunnit. ‘It’s the way I feel about people, from my own know- ledge of them, that makes me able to investigate them . . . You’d be surprised what you can find out from a little idle chat.’ The goriest passage

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About the contributor

Julie Welch was the first woman to report on football for a national newspaper, the Observer, and is the author of eleven books. Her latest is The Fleet Street Girls, which tells the story of the trail-blazing young women who entered the male-dominated world of journalism in the 1970s and 1980s.

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