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Review of Murder at Merewood Hospital by Michelle Salter

The patients survived the Great War only to face a new danger…

In 1916, Sister Helen Hopgood was sent with a team of nurses to care for wounded soldiers at Merewood Farm, a temporary military hospital in Hampshire.

Now the war is over, only five patients remain – and she is the only nurse. The last ward must close, and Helen is doing all she can to find new homes for the injured servicemen.

Joseph Wintringham has to sell the farm to keep Merewood Manor. But since the murder of Nurse Taplin, locals believe the place is cursed - perhaps by the doomed nurse or by the patients who perished from their war wounds.

Is the hospital haunted? Or is someone very real behind the unnatural deaths that begin on Midsummer’s Night 1919?

Can Helen discover the truth before it’s too late..?

I thoroughly enjoy the Iris Woodmore series by the same author, so was intrigued when I was told she was releasing a standalone book, especially when I saw the premise, as it looked (judging by the cover design) to be slightly darker in tone. One of the things I love about the Iris Woodmore books is that they don't shy away from the realities of life in post WW1 Britain and the aftermath of that conflict: I wanted to see what the author would make of this, without the usual constraints of the cosy crime genre.

By the end of the book, with the list of possible suspects inevitably running out, I'd worked out what had happened and why, but as this was mere pages before the truth was revealed, a) I couldn't be too smug and b) it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.

However, just as I thought I'd worked out how everything was going to be resolved, the author threw a final curveball in. Initially, I wasn't sure I liked how the book ended, but having reflected on it, I came to the conclusion that it was absolutely the right way to resolve matters. It also meant that the one aspect of the book that I realised had been niggling at me all the time I was reading it, had - as a result of that ending - become a non-issue, which confirmed that the conclusion of Helen's story was spot on. (I apologise for being particularly vague on this point, but to explain why the ending was so satisfying, would necessitate including huge spoilers!)

In terms of style, this book reminded me very much of Jacqueline Winspear's excellent 'Maisie Dobbs' series and the comparison is by way of a compliment. In the same way that I have continued to be a loyal reader of the Maisie books, were Michelle Salter to decide to bring Helen Hopgood back for a series, I would be first in the queue to read them.

Michelle Salter writes historical cosy crime set in Hampshire, where she lives, and inspired by real-life events in 1920s Britain. The first book in her Iris Woodmore series, Death at Crookham Hall, draws on her interest in the aftermath of the Great War and the suffragette movement.


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