Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Royal Murder is the second book in the Rebecca Keith Mysteries by Sandra Winter-Dewhirst. The first book The Popeye Murder introduces journalist Rebecca Keith, her boyfriend Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jarvie, as well as the landscape and lifestyle in and around Adelaide. Murder in the earlier book and in this one is the theme on which both books are built.
These stories have a lot in common with the Miss Fisher Murders. There is a strong female protagonist who appears to be well off if her wardrobe and socialising calendar are to be accepted. The female leads take on the role of super sleuth and have a romantic interest who is a senior policeman. Both series have their settings in key Australian towns, though the Keith Mysteries are set in modern times. Again, murder is the theme but, in both series, there is much that is light-hearted.
Sandra Winter-Dewhirst’s writing skills, no doubt, are a result of studies at two South Australian Universities, in Arts and Journalism and her role as journalist for over thirty years. She has also spent ten years as the state director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in South Australia as well as holding a seat on a range of arts boards and media advisory councils.
The heroine in the series is Rebecca Keith, who reports for the local Advertiser. Her key role for the paper is as a food and wine correspondent, however, as happened in the first book, she soon finds herself at the same location of a death, and her coverage for the paper soon turns to an investigation into the crime. In the process, as an inquisitive, assertive person she soon finds herself at the scene of other deaths and herself in a situation of danger. Her relationship with Chief Inspector Gary Jarvie can only progress slowly as both are involved with the murders, for their own reasons, and while she can share her findings with him, he is not able to reciprocate.
The first body is that of American golfer, Pixie Browning, in Adelaide for the Women’s Australian Open Golf tournament. Her body is hit by the train which traverses the golf course. However it is soon obvious that what is in the expensive embossed bag was dead before the train arrived. The Chinese calligraphy on this red container plus white lotus leaves left on the scene suggest Chinese Triad involvement.
Rebecca has a group of close friends who are her confidants and social partners as she visits high-end restaurants in search of information. Each has specific skills and knowledge which help Rebecca in her quest to uncover the truth. Although she is impulsive and quick to blame, she eventually finds her man and, (surprise!) she seems to always be the one on hand to get involved with any rescue. She plays golf, is at home in any social setting, is not afraid to venture into danger and can fight to protect others and herself. (Sounds like Miss Fisher)
It is obvious that the author Sandra Winter-Dewhirst loves South Australia. This shines through in her vivid, detailed descriptions of the countryside through which her travels take her- from the Adelaide Hills where the harsh sun created a shimmering glare like ‘looking through a wine bottle’ and ‘resembling a Hans Heysen painting’(79), to the Barossa Valley with its ‘limestone and corrugated-iron buildings and immaculate gardens (81) and the topography and animal life found on Kangaroo Island off the coast. This same detail applies to the venues she visits – ‘the great room was dotted with a mixture of white and grey leather chairs and sofas, matched with blonde wood tables’ (174). There is also the deft handling of sardonic humour in Winter-Dewhirst’s writings that puts her ahead of the pack.
It was decadent and wasteful to spend the equivalent to a family’s weekly grocery shopping bill on one meal. But she knew the guilt would quickly dissolve as soon as the first glass of bubbly and amuse-bouche touched her mauve lips (77).
The same detail the author expends on her descriptions of the countryside are to be found in her descriptions of her own attire.
She was wearing a khaki-coloured safari dress accessorised with a wide deep-brown leather belt, tan-coloured leopard print scarf, and leather sandals (78).
A lot of explanation is provided about things relevant to South Australia; how this Australian State came to have the oldest shiraz and cabernet vines in the world (80), how a particular part of the country looks ‘like something out of the Middle East’, with its two thousand date palms, and the difference between seals and sea lions found on Kangaroo Island. Although I enjoyed reading this interesting information there may be other readers who feel that there was too much of this information and that it took away from the murder mystery itself.
In my view – a murder mystery that sparkles like a top South Australian shiraz.
By Sandra Winter-Dewhirst