Leonie Swann’s darkly humorous cozy mystery The Sunset Years of Agnes Sharp, translated from the German by Amy Bojang, features a quirky cast of older characters who live together in Sunset Hall on the outskirts of a British village called Duck End.
The residents also share space with a free-range tortoise named Hettie who, in the book’s attention-grabbing first chapter, discovers the body of housemate Lilith in the garden shed—a death the group has not yet reported to the authorities.
Understandably, it’s a huge relief when the police come knocking and it’s not Lilith they’re concerned with, but rather their neighbor Mildred, found dead on her terrace from a gunshot. The group decides their neighbor’s murder presents an opportunity: They’ll simply figure out who killed her and attribute Lilith’s death to the murderer as well. They’ve got the qualifications, as several of them have done sleuthing work in the past, and they’ve got the time. Easy peasy!
Carrying out their plan is more difficult than anticipated, not least because Agnes, a cranky force of nature who often leads the group, has been feeling and acting off lately. Her memories are jumbled, her perceptions a bit askew and she’s been fainting quite often, making it difficult to inspire confidence while withstanding police questioning. There’s plenty of wariness among the other residents, too; after all, they don’t know each other that well, and why does the house gun keep going missing, anyway?
As tensions mount and the police grow increasingly suspicious of Sunset Hall, Swann conveys with wit and empathy the push-pull of wanting to achieve things but feeling hobbled by age, infirmity or self-doubt. As in her first novel, 2007’s Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story, Swann assembles an unusual group of intrepid detectives and manages to find the fun among the fear in an engaging and offbeat tale of murder and occasional mayhem.