I've come to the conclusion after reading the first 60 or so pages of Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis, that I'm the wrong reader for this particular mystery. I heard about it in my online reading group a while ago and was instantly intrigued--a new mystery series featuring a young Daphne du Maurier as the sleuth. I'm often hesitant about reading a novel that has an actual person as a main character, but I really enjoyed Nicola Upson's An Expert in Murder (with a fictionalized Josephine Tey), so I decided to keep it in the back of my mind and watch for it. I finally came across the book whilst browsing online and was completely taken with the cover, which I think is gorgeous and so fitting for the story. It's not actually due out until later this month, but having no patience when I come across a book I really want to read I asked the publisher if they would be willing to send out a review copy and they kindly did.
In Murder on the Cliffs, Daphne has convinced her parents to let her travel to Cornwall to do some research in a local abbey. Of course in the back of her mind is the idea of a little freedom, as the last thing she wants is to think of looking for a husband, and perhaps she'll find a little inspiration for her writing as well. She's twenty or so and and has her own ideas of how she wants to live her life. Soon after her arrival as she's walking along the beach she comes across the body of a woman, very obviously murdered, and finds herself engulfed in a murder investigation.
I think the reason the Upson book worked so well for me when the Challis hasn't is that I knew very little about Josephine Tey or her work, whereas I'm a great fan of Daphne du Maurier. I've read a handful of her novels and short stories as well as a biography by Margaret Forster, so I have this idea in mind of what she was like. I think of her as being a very formidable and complex woman. It was hard to reconcile this younger, fictional Daphne in my mind with what I've read and imagined about her. I just couldn't picture her in this setting, doing these things. Someone in my book group mentioned having listened to an interview with P.D. James once where James said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that she wished that reviewers would review the book she wrote rather than the book they wished she had written. As I was reading I couldn't help but feel that was the case with me. My expectations were too high and whatever story Challis had written about Daphne was unlikely to meet was what already in my mind.
Had the main character in this book simply been a fictional young woman getting wrapped up in discovering who committed murder, I think I could have clicked with the story. The setting is perfect--Cornwall, along the coast. Challis is good at mood--I could hear the waves pounding the shore and feel the tenseness of coming upon such a hideous scene. There is a great house involved and a prominent family. The elements are right, but it just didn't mesh for me. As I didn't finish the book, I can't really write a proper review, but I did want to mention the book as I think it might appeal to readers who like cozy mysteries and who don't mind a famous person in the starring role.
At a loose ends for a mystery to read (I always have at least one on the go), I picked up Fred Vargas's Have Mercy on Us All, which Smithereens sent to me some time ago. I've never read any of her mysteries, but I've heard good things about her books, and so far this one seems to be working out better than poor Daphne did. I've yet to meet the sleuth, and so far there hasn't actually been a crime, but I'm curious where Vargas is taking the story. It's set in contemporary Paris and was published in 2001. A bit disappointed not to be reading a good cozy, I'm also contemplating choosing something else--perhaps something by P.D. James or Ngaio Marsh, or maybe trying (new to me) Edmund Crispin. The nice thing about mysteries is there are so many to choose from, and so many readers with varying tastes, it's just a matter of matching the two.