Elizabeth J. Duncan brings back her wonderful characters manicurist turned spa owner Penny Brannigan and Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Davies in her series set in Wales. In Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, the pair travels to a church conference at Gladstone's Library in North East Wales, where they are both to be speakers. Instead, they end up dealing with a murder investigation.
From the moment that a church secretary decides to take advantage of secrets she uncovers, the reader knows that idea won't end well. But, the woman had a few ideas as to how she could make a little money, so it takes a little time to uncover the killer. But, a second death, and the story surrounding it are totally unexpected.
Penny Brannigan has always been one of my favorite characters because of her attitude toward investigating as an amateur sleuth who is seeing a police officer. "I've learned that the best thing to do is just tell him everything and let him decide what's important. It drives him crazy when people know something that actually turns out to be important and didn't tell the police because they didn't think it was relevant." That's my kind of sleuth, one who doesn't hide evidence from the police.
Saying that, Never Laugh as Hearse Goes By is my least favorite of the books in this series. I didn't like that the librarian gave out information to Penny, even though she said she shouldn't because it was a privacy issue. The story line of this mystery felt weak. Perhaps it was the setting away from the usual stomping grounds, although some of the regular characters did show up at the library. And, I wasn't happy with the change in Penny's personal life. However, I can accept Penny's decision, because Duncan made that decision true to the character.
Maybe the story line with a manicurist as an amateur sleuth has actually run its course. I don't know. Despite the weaknesses in Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, I'm not giving up on Elizabeth J. Duncan and Penny Brannigan.
Elizabeth J. Duncan's website is www.elizabethjduncan.com
Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By by Elizabeth J. Duncan. Minotaur Books. 2013. ISBN 9781250008251 (hardcover), 293p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.