Death at One Blow
A Sally and Johnny Heldar Mystery
by Henrietta Hamilton
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 29 Jan 2021 | Archive Date 4 Feb 2021
Brimming with wartime secrets and family quarrels, Death at One Blow is the second in Henrietta Hamilton’s Sally and Johnny Heldar mystery series.
Needing a break from summer in the city, Sally and Johnny Heldar leave London for the countryside. Tasked with sorting out two jumbled personal libraries in a country estate, the couple are looking forward to a holiday break filled with books, fresh air, and reconnecting with long time friend Sir Mark.
But upon their arrival, the Heldars become privy to tensions within the house, and soon the pair find themselves at the centre of another mystery.
A Note From the Publisher
If you enjoyed reading Death at One Blow, we'd really appreciate seeing your honest review on Amazon. Thank you and happy reading, Agora Books.
Death at One Blow is part of Agora Books' Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.
Death at One Blow is part of Agora Books' Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 19 members
I love this series and was very happy to read this mystery. It's an engrossing and entertaining story set in a country mansion and with a limited number of possible culprits. Golden Age at its best, a puzzle to be solved that kept me hooked and turning pages very fast. The mystery is solid, full of red herrings and twists, and it kept me guessing. One note: some phrases about race can sound a bit racist in 2021 but they are part of the spirit of the age and this book is an interesting snapshot of post WWII situation. I cannot wait to read another book in this series, this one is strongly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
This is a reissue of an excellent classic crime book. Sally and Johnny Heldar had a long honeymoon in March and April, but now it's a hot summer in London. Johnny has been asked to do a rush job on a private library in the country by Sir Mark Mercator. He asks if Sally would go with him to help, and they could make it partly a vacation. Mercator's wife was a Thaxton, and Mercator had bought the Thaxton family seat Westwater near Fanchester about a month previously. The older generations of owners had died, and the son Richard was shotdown in Korea when he was in the RAF. He had left everything to his girlfriend, Lisa Harz, who had made the sale to Mercator. However, two days before, the Chinese had released Richard. In the mean time Mercator had merged his own library with the Thaxton library. When Richard and Lisa arrive at Westwater, there were immediate tensions. A pompous neighbor, Colonel Darby comes by and starts to complain about some changes Mercator had been making. The estate agent George Willesdon is usually drunk and not very effective, and he has been fired. On their first day in the library they find a conterfeit book (a later edition has been doctored to look like the first edition which is supposed to be in the library). Then, Mercator has a fall and hits his head. The Heldars are not sure whether it was an accident or a murder attempt. When Mercator is murdered, the police have a lot of suspects. When Willesdon is found drowned by the dam, it is assumed he committed suicide because he was Mercator's killer. However, Richard asks the Heldars to investigate and figure out the real murderer. It is found that Mercator had written a new will leaving everything to Richard; if Richard marries Lisa, then it all goes to charity. This makes Richard the prime suspect. Can the Heldars identify the real murderer before the wrong person is charged?
I had never heard of Henrietta Hamilton before Agora started republishing her books in 2020 as part of their Uncrowned Queens of Crime library. I had missed a huge treat – Hamilton’s books are (a) so evocative of the UK in the 1950s and (b) well-written mysteries. Death at One Blow was first published in 1957 and is Hamilton’s second featuring the (now newly married) couple of Sally and Johnny Heldar. I won’t repeat the publisher’s summary of the plot as I always worry about adding spoilers. Instead, I’ll note my thoughts about the book. Johnny’s family are antiquarian book dealers and handle a lot of rare volumes. In real life, Henrietta Hamilton was a pseudonym for Hester Denne Shepherd. Ms Shepherd was born in 1920; gained an honours degree in Modern Languages at Oxford; and worked in a rare book business just like the Heldar family’s. That knowledge gives authenticity to the books. I didn’t guess whodunnit and I was impressed with the way we readers were gently nudged one way, then another. But I felt uncomfortable only a short way into the book when we get a description of Sir Mark including “… even the nose, which just betrayed his race, …”. Sir Mark is a true gentle man and his background is relevant to the plot, but I can’t help but feel there is a hint of the author implying “He’s a gentleman and a very good man, even though …”. As I say, it’s relevant to the plot and possibly reflected attitudes at the time at which the book was written (I don’t know, I wasn’t around then), but is very jarring for modern readers. I think, despite the couple of sentences that could have been quietly edited by Agora, that I would recommend this book to any lover of crime fiction. #DeathatOneBlow #NetGalley
Death at One Blow is the second book in the Sally & Johnny Heldar series and was originally published in 1957. Agora Books is republishing it as part of their Uncrowned Queens of Crime series and I am so glad that they are! Sally and Johnny, antiquarian booksellers, leave London for the countryside. Sir Mark Mercator has asked them to sort out two jumbled library collections at his newly acquired estate, Westwater Manor. There is an accident, a murder, and another death. I really enjoyed this classic mystery! There were a small number of suspects, an intelligent inspector, red herrings, and the type of amateur sleuths that I like - reluctant and smart and aware of the importance of not impeding the police in their investigations. People seem to confide in Sally and Johnny and that works in their favour as they try to distinguish the truth from the lies. The repercussions of World War 2 are a huge part of this story even though it takes place 12 years after the war has ended. I found it fascinating. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
I've now read (all?) four of the Johnny and Sally Heldar series by Henrietta Hamilton, having had them recommended on a Facebook page. Although some of the racial stereotyping (and particularly descriptions of Jewish characters) has caused sharp intakes of breath, that apart, the stories have a fairly modern approach to life for the time (the late 1950s) they were written. Henrietta Hamilton writes with a light touch and her characters are well defined. Death at One Blow is the second book in the series (Agora are republishing them in an idiosyncratic order.) and takes place in the early months of the Heldars' marriage. Their relationship forms a backdrop to the books without impinging too much on the plots. The couple takes on a job for an old friend at his new country house. Johnny is part of an antiquarian bookselling dynasty in whose shop Sally worked before her marriage and they go to catalogue Sir Mark's library. Needless to say, there is a murder and the Heldars are asked by the victim's family to make some informal enquiries. For me, the perpetrator was obvious from quite a long way out but this in no way spoiled the book for me as the whys and wherefores were fascinating. There was a strong cast of suspects and bit-part players and I was sad to finish the book.
This is book two (of four) in the Johnny and Sally Heldar mystery series though the third to be re-published by Agora Books. Johnny and Sally are now happily married and this book is much more focussed on the mystery at hand than ‘The Two Hundred Ghost’ which centred more on their romance with the crime much less to the fore. As such, this novel is much more traditional and, unlike many of its contemporaries from the 1950s, is a straightforward puzzle harking back to the golden age rather than the more psychological type thriller that was becoming increasingly popular at that time. The author uses the novel to introduce several characters who have been affected in some way or other by war. This is always subtle and never at the expense of the story but we are certainly shown the different ways in which conflict can scar people even if they are physically well. Although the period in which the story is set shows, in many ways, a simpler and less frenzied world than now, clearly damaged souls with greed in their hearts and gentle people who wanted to be good neighbours were just as prevalent as they are today. The setting seems just as relevant and modern in these pandemic-stricken times as it was when it was written. Although the set up for the plot is fairly straightforward there are twists and turns aplenty and many suspects. I think I pinpointed the culprit at almost the exact point in the story when Johnny worked it out although he had a much better explanation than me! I was quite proud of myself though as I rarely work these stories out prior to the dénouement. The clues are all there though, this is definitely a fair play mystery for those who like to pit their wits against the detective. This is the book which I have enjoyed most so far from this series so far (though I thought both books one and four were excellent). I look forward to book three being republished in the near future so that this excellent set of detective stories is available once more in its entirety for us to enjoy.
Clever Puzzle At Its’ Heart.... The second in the Sally and Johnny Heldar series of mysteries and the duo are off to the countryside with their latest library assignment whilst hoping to combine the jaunt with a holiday. When they arrive at the country estate it becomes clear that all is not well within the big house. The sometime amateur sleuths, Sally and Johnny, are both likeable and amenable and make an enjoyable duo. Hugely enjoyable classic crime with a clever puzzle at its’ heart, fully entertaining with well drawn characters and an engaging plot. A very worthy reissue from Agora Books (and part of their ‘Uncrowned Queens of Crime’ series). Highly recommended.