Katherine Hall Page is one of the earliest of what I consider to be the new classic, contemporary Cozy Mystery authors. The first book in her Faith Fairchild mystery series, The Body in the Belfry, was first published way back in 1990 (for me at least, it is hard to believe how long ago that was now.) The Faith Fairchild series is the next in my list of the most popular and recommended series that I am highlighting.
In this first book, we meet Faith Fairchild, a mid 20s-something new mother of a four month old boy (Benjamin). Faith grew up in Manhattan. Her father is a minister and her mother is a lawyer. She moved when she married Tom Fairchild (also a minister) to Aleford, Massachusetts, a small town which is about as far from the hustle and bustle of her native New York as is possible – while only being a few hundred miles away. In New York, Faith had operated a catering business, “Have Faith”, but since her move to Aleford and her new baby, she has not yet re-started her business (although she plans to do so soon.)
The book opens with Faith, carrying Benjamin in a snuggie, climbing the highest hill in the town to the belfry seeking a peaceful place to eat her bagged lunch. There Faith discovers the murdered body of Cindy Sheppard slumped over on a bench. Faith does the logical thing and rings the town’s bell (an act which in itself upsets some of the town’s old-timers). The town’s police force responds, and the whodunit begins.
It turns out that Cindy was one of the least-liked, or some might say most-hated, young women in the town. Cindy had a very mean streak and most of the women and many of the men in Aleford had one reason or another to want Cindy out of the way. Just what I like: plenty of suspects!
Since Faith has yet to re-start her catering business and finds life a little slow in Aleford, Faith (naturally!) gets involved in trying to solve the mystery. Let’s face it >>> she found the body so she is already in the middle of the investigation (at least she thinks so.)
The Body in the Belfry is a very satisfying Cozy Mystery read. Being an “early” modern Cozy, it has several themes (for example, minister’s wife and culinary), but it does not dwell on them to the point of having the themes dominate the sleuthing. Aleford provides a nice small community with a number of eccentric (but not “zany”) characters. The people are richly drawn, providing a very interesting Cozy background for the mystery. And, Faith travels back to New York and to her aunt’s house in New Jersey for a few days which provides a nice, temporary change of scene.
Faith has a “small but adequate” trust fund from her grandfather. Although her new husband, Tom, normally does not want her to spend the money, Faith has re-done her kitchen to bring it up to her high standards and to get it ready for her to start her “Have Faith” catering company again.
The Body in the Belfry is a great start to the Faith Fairchild series. The series, which began in 1990, is still going strong with the 2016 release of The Body in the Wardrobe, the 23rd book in the series. I know I’m not alone in saying: Here’s hoping Katherine Hall Page keeps this series going for another 23 books!