The Oakley Woods Murders

Last year, we were lucky enough to check out the utterly charming Strange Times in Little Happining from Beth Jones. And now, Inspector Mandalay and Co. are back for yet another adventure in their quaint little locale.

If you remember back, that first book introduced us to Little Happining, some of its key figures, and a mystery involving ancient history seemingly coming to life. This time out, we again have quite the unusual case for the cake-loving, oft-irritable Mandalay, for he’s having to deal with actual crime. And let’s face it, Mandalay would much rather be sipping tea or dealing with the local drunk instead of getting his time taken up with something as paperwork-producing as murder. But not just one murder, for Little Happining – and in particular Oakley Woods – is seeing an alarming amount of bodies pile up, with all signs pointing towards something rather sinister. Could the outlandish reports and rumblings of some eerie beast patrolling the woods really be true, or is this nothing more than speculation and pots being stirred? Inspector Mandalay is on the case, and he’s determined (if not reluctant!) to get to the bottom of this mystery.

With her two Mandalay Mysteries to date, author Beth Jones has crafted a world that is so simple but so wonderfully told that is has you eagerly turning page after page after page. Sure, there’s a great story at the centre of The Oakley Woods Murders, and there are certainly a few twists to this particular tale, but, as with Strange Times in Little Happining, it’s often the minute details that impress just as much as the greater narrative. When it comes to description and scene-setting, Jones is proving herself to be an absolute matter, with the quaint and warm Little Happining and its characters given depth rarely seen in such a swift and breezy read.

We described the previous installment of Mandalay Mysteries as a hidden gem, and that is again the case here. For sheer storytelling, Beth Jones is marking herself out as a major talent just waiting to be discovered by a wider audience. In fact, her two adventures to date have a warm sheen to them that wouldn’t feel out of place told in a family-friendly daytime TV mystery. Part Midsomer Murders, part Scooby-Doo, all beautifully constructed in a wondrous anecdote that will instantly pull you back to a more innocent time when the little things mattered, delicate details were appreciated, and we were all a little less cynical and grumpy. But let’s face it, Inspector Mandalay has us all beat when it comes to cynical and grumpy. Well, unless you’ve got a nice shepherd’s pie for him to devour.