Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By Review
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Cozy mysteries have come a long way. Once, they were just light whodunits solved by middle-aged biddies, but this popular sub-genre now welcomes amateur sleuths of all ages, genders, nationalities, and personalities. Still, author Elizabeth J. Duncan sticks to the old cozy mystery standards for her latest Penny Brannigan mystery, Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By.

The story follows the Welsh artist and spa owner as she attends a clerical conference with her boyfriend, DCI Gareth Davies. Both Penny and Gareth are there to give presentations to the attendees—but when the bishop’s secretary dies suddenly and suspiciously, their relaxing trip turns into a murder investigation.

And it doesn’t end there, either. Before long, Penny discovers yet another body. And with Gareth conducting his official investigation, Penny is left to do a little bit of sleuthing on her own.

Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By is about as traditional as a cozy mystery can get. It’s prim and proper with an overall tone that tends to come off as more than just a little bit smug.

Penny is a rather nondescript middle-aged woman in a village full of nondescript middle-aged women. The characters (or at least the female ones) all appear to be rather plain and unremarkable—and they seem to spend their time doing little more than getting their nails done, gossiping, and eating Welsh rarebit. And although Penny is the main character, the novel’s female characters all seem so similar that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish them from one another.

The story, meanwhile, is rather slow and sleepy—and the set-up feels a little too loose. After all, as soon as the bishop’s secretary has a severe allergic reaction to her meal, everyone (including the police) immediately assumes that she was intentionally poisoned—though, in all honesty, it could have been an honest mistake. But as the investigation unfolds, Penny continues to jump to a whole lot of conclusions that aren’t as obvious as they’re made out to be—though, of course, she’s almost always right. Along the way, she uncovers all kinds of unlikely coincidences, most of which feel far-fetched—and just a little too convenient.

Of course, if you’re a cozy mystery purist, perhaps you’ll enjoy this amateur sleuth’s latest outing. But the stuffy tone and unlikely plot twists might leave you longing for the heart and humor of a more modern mystery.

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