William R. Potter reviews
"Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders"
by John Howard Reid
Miami Police Sergeant Merryll Manning is on vacation at a health farm in Australia after answering an ad that promises a return to health and happiness. Just what he needed, or so he thought. Merryll’s hopes for rest and relaxation are quickly dashed when a fellow guest is found dead.
Available for the first time in North America, this is the second of twelve Merryll Manning books first published in Australia in 1985 by author John Howard Reid. Despite being a sequel, the book reads well as a stand-alone, and there is no need to read the prequel to become accustomed to the character.
Sister Susan’s Health Farm is set in fictional Happy Valley, based on Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. Author Reid introduces a large cast of intriguing characters, each of whom have retreated to the farm for their own unique reasons. His protagonist is no stereotypical detective; Merryll (Merry) Manning is a sophisticated, eccentric policeman rather than the macho, ego-driven cops so common in the mystery genre.
When a retired film exhibitor is found dead and the local police arrive, there is immediate friction between Merryll and police sergeant George Lambert.
Lambert’s police skills appear limited and Merryll questions the sergeant’s ability to solve a homicide. Lambert points the finger of guilt at local thug James “Jimbo” Punter. Merryll suspects the sergeant has a personal bias against Punter and learns Jimbo once had an affair with Lambert’s wife.
Another guest is found dead. Merryll turns up clues that put nearly every one of the twelve vacationers, and even the proprietress Susan Delaflore, under suspicion at one time or another in the story. An enormous police manhunt for Punter begins in the vast valley. Meanwhile, the survivors of Sister Susan’s farm set out on the final hike of the visit to Pulpit Rock Lookout. The hike is vigorous and dangerous as the author brings all the players together for an epic confrontation, but keeps the reader guessing the true identity of the killer until the final pages.
The author has a knack for scene-painting narrative. His vivid descriptions of the mountain scenery and the simple accommodations of the farm effectively put the reader right in the scene, watching the drama unfold.
Mr. Reid has penned a captivating, soft-boiled detective story with a strong main character, a terrific supporting cast, and a plot with twists, turns, and plenty of red herrings. He treats the reader to a tale filled with tension, conflict, and quirky humor.
The violence is minimal and there is no foul language.
I highly recommend Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders. This is an intelligent, oldfashioned-styled mystery that won’t disappoint. Those who love a great whodunit will be hooked. Merryll is a superb hero and this is sure to be an entertaining, enjoyable series.
More “Merry” mysteries please!
Reviewed by William R. Potter for Reader’s Choice Reviews.