A Dangerous Goodbye – Fliss Chester

— Disclaimer: this is a long one! Please have the patience to read until the end! —

In Fliss Chester’s first attempt at a cozy historical mystery, Fenella Churche, puzzle and crossword enthusiast, is trying to find out what happened to her fiance, Arthur, who, like many others, never came home from the war. Unlike many others; however, he sent Fenella a letter from beyond the grave, warning her that he was most likely dead. Using the clues found in the letter, Fenella winds up in French wine country, posing as a church historian in order to find out what happened to Arthur. 

Arthur’s disappearance is a mystery in itself, but Fen’s appearance at the winery seems to be the catalyst for a few suspicious deaths. Fen can’t help but feel that the murders and Arthur’s disappearance are linked, and when her fellow countryman (who knows something about Arthur) is arrested for the crime, she’s determined to solve the murders as well as her own troubles.

“A gripping story of war, mystery, espionage and murder. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd and Rhys Bowen will absolutely adore this unputdownable World War Two murder mystery.” –https://flisschester.co.uk/fen-churche-mysteries

That’s the line on Chester’s website promoting A Dangerous Goodbye, and, I have to admit, I don’t agree with it. I liked Fenella and her mission to find out what happened to Arthur; it was a great premise for a mystery novel. However, I thought the plot and the characters were on the weaker side. Although it works(ish) as a cozy mystery, I don’t feel that it’s on the level of Winspear, Todd, or Bowen. While I was promised a lot by that single quote, I feel like those promises weren’t fulfilled, and I’ll tell you why I disagree. 

Let’s start with “unputdownable.” I think that’s an exaggeration, which is unfortunate. What makes a book unputdownable for me is the connection I feel with the character(s), which helps build suspense throughout the book as they go through various challenges. I didn’t feel very connected to Fenella throughout A Dangerous Goodbye, so I was okay taking a break from her. I don’t feel as if Chester delved deeply enough into Fenella’s character and personality for me. It’s clear that she’s bereaved and has a lot of emotions, but I read her and thought “oh, that’s sad,” instead of hurting with her, if that makes sense. 

The other thing about Fenella that could have been explored more was her love of crossword puzzles and word games. They ended up being a significant part of the story, but readers never learned why she likes them, how she got into them, or what kind of role they played in her relationship, which would have made me feel more connected to her as a character as well.

“A gripping story…” also didn’t hold for me as gripping usually means suspenseful, and this was far from it. Fen was receiving clues from the beyond throughout the novel, and they were just introduced as ordinary events in her day. I did not find this book to be suspenseful or gripping as I just didn’t feel a great sense of urgency about the whole thing, even though townsfolk were dropping dead like flies. I did rather like introducing clues casually as it was a unique approach. Usually a casual clue is something subtle that the reader doesn’t notice at first, but these obvious clues were just sidled into the storyline. I found it very interesting and somewhat challenging.

The four highlighted elements in this quote are “war, mystery, espionage, and murder,” and while there was plenty of mystery and murder, I would say that war and espionage were few and far between. I can’t say much about either without giving away the plot, but I thought that description didn’t match up with the content. 

“Fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Rhys Bowen will absolutely adore…” Let’s get one thing straight: Fenella Churche does not hold a candle to Maisie Dobbs. Winspear winds complex, moving, emotional, and deep stories that make Maisie Dobbs an unputdownable read. Fenella Church pales in comparison, and it’s for the reason I stated earlier: she’s just not deep enough of a character. If she had more depth, if her mystery was more enthralling, if the language evoked more emotion…she could be a fierce competitor to Dobbs, Crawford, or O’Mara (nee Rannoch). 

Now that I’ve thoroughly picked apart the quote (hook) that led me to read this book, I hope you’ll see why I was disillusioned by what I read vs. what I was promised. I had high expectations, and they were not met. However, it doesn’t mean that I hated the book. I did like the location and setting, and there were a few elements that surprised me and were good additions to the story. I also liked the more casual writing style rather than a more suspenseful tone (but it should be appropriately described as such!). 

I think this book may have just had too much going on for it to dig really deep. Puzzley clues, missing soldiers, multiple murders, Fenella’s grief, etc. was a ton to pack into this book. I could have easily settled in for a more emotional journey of Fen discovering what happened to Arthur without his clues and been happy with a longer novel to do so. 

If there is a second novel in this series, I would be happy to give it a try. I think Fenella and this series has a lot of promise because the premise of this debut novel was very original. I’d like to learn more about Fenella, and I’d like to see where she goes next as I don’t think she plans on staying in France. I want to be clear that the source of my disappointment surrounding this novel is that it read so differently than it was described; if I hadn’t been promised a sister to Maisie Dobbs then I think I would have finished this book with a different attitude. It had a lot of Cozy qualities that I think most readers would enjoy. 

Published by SamIAmReading

I am an avid reader and lover of historical mysteries and romances, but happy to take review requests and expand my horizons! All opinions in this blog are my own and have been given freely.

2 thoughts on “A Dangerous Goodbye – Fliss Chester

    1. Thank you, Mary – I do consider that authors put a crazy amount of time and effort into their novels and try to review with those things in mind (plus, like cutting hair, writing a novel is something I don’t think I could ever do myself!). And, I think I could really like Fen Churche if I could just get the opportunity to know her better.

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