Review: The Labours of Mrs Stella Ryman

(Fairmount Manor Mysteries #2)

Mel Anastasiou

Published by Pulp Literature Press

Release date: April 1 2019

Genre: Detective Stories, Humour

Eighty-two year old Stella Ryman has found an original way to soldier on through the difficulties of old age, lack of freedom, bad food and the sheer boredom of living in an aged care home. She has become Fairmount Manor’s resident amateur sleuth.

I love this concept, and it gets better, because Stella isn’t your usual detective. She is curious and resourceful, sure, but she doesn’t always remember just what she is trying to achieve. She is courageous and a bit of a rebel, determined to go wherever she wants, but she can’t quite recall where the dining room is. And sometimes she just needs a nap. Nevertheless, she is no tame old lady:

In this posture, she felt exactly like a teenaged juvenile delinquent. It was not a bad way to feel at eighty-two.

In this loosely linked collection of five stories, Stella investigates several thefts, a mysterious new resident who may have a sinister agenda, a possible case of elder abuse and even the appearance of a ghost. And she does it in the company of some memorable fellow residents who are also anything but sweet old ladies. Stella’s best friend, Thelma, is “perhaps the crankiest blind woman in Canada”. Then there is the Greek Chorus (Iolanthe, Lucille and Sally the Nodder) whose snarky comments are a joy. Not to forget Mad Cassandra, who may or may not be dead. We also meet Ollie the rhymer, kind Cheryl and lovely Reliza, who care for the residents under the baleful eye of Mrs Warren, known as “The Warden”.

Stella is an ex-school librarian and the stories are littered with references to heroes both historic and literary.

Stella reminded herself that the Scarlet Pimpernel and Lawrence of Arabia would have kept cool in similar circumstances, and so would she.

I also appreciated all the nods to Greek mythology, from the title itself to mentions of Perseus and Andromeda, harpies, and this gem:

Stella carried on past the activities hall, giving the door a wide berth. This was always a dangerous area to navigate. Odysseus himself would have had to tie himself to the mast of his ship to avoid some care worker dragging him inside and making him do Healthy Movement to easy listening recordings.

I had a lot of fun with this. My only criticism is that the solutions to most of the mysteries weren’t very interesting to me, but I realise that isn’t really the point here. If you’re looking for a clue-driven detective story, full of twists and turns, you’ll have to go elsewhere, but if you want a bit of a giggle along with some insightful musings on old age and life in general, look no further than Stella and the gang in this delightful collection.

A digital A.R.C. of this novel was supplied to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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