The Health Farm Murders by John Howard Reid


SuspenseThe Health Farm Murders by John Howard Reid

Merryll Manning: The Health Farm MurdersJohn Howard Reid; Rastar Press 1990WorldCat

Review is by Molly

John Howard Reid’s Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders is a mystery thriller set against the tapestry of an invented health farm located in the petite Blue Mountains township of Blackheath of New South Wales, west of Sydney, Australia. The Health Farm Murders is the second in a suspense series presenting Sergeant Merryll, Merry, Manning of the Miami Police Department.

It was Wednesday, traveling on board the train was a group of men set for a week of health and revitalization at Sister Susan’s Happy Valley Health Farm.  Sister Susan had booked the seats.  No one realized a killer might be riding in the compartment with them.

The health seekers themselves were an interesting lot, from chubby minister to a retired film exhibitor, to policeman, accountant, government workers and even an astrologer the lot had little in common other than a desire, or need, to seek a little revitalization and improving of health.

The characters portrayed on the pages of the work are fictitious, however, the storyline has been adapted using a number of true-life incidents taking place in varied locales around South America.

On board the train this varied group of men meets and begins to appraise and irritate one another.  Assignment to their various rooms only serves to continue the annoyance as the chubby minister complains there is to be no supper, the former movie house owner takes offense at the presence of the movie critic, the former sea captain talks non stop about his days at sea and the astrologer insists upon analyzing his compadres.

Three murders later finds Merry up to his ears helping to resolve the crimes.   Merry’s expectations for some rest and relaxation have been completely dashed as one fellow guest after another is found dead.

While The Health Farm Murders is actually a sequel, the work is readable as a stand-alone with no need to read the prior book to understand the main  character.   Merry Manning is not a formula gung ho copper, he is a little unconventional, urbane, and not particularly ego-driven or macho as is often seen in mystery, thriller genre.  Manning sleuths his way between bouts of being bashed unconscious.

Before long he has found reasons to suspect each of his fellow R and R enthusiasts, Sister Susan, the Health Farm manager Jeff Caldecott, and even the local police sergeant.

Writer Reid paints vivid description of the locales to draw the reader into the action.  His description of characters fleshes each to provide a good mental picture of each.  I liked the lack of gore, violent outburst despite Merry’s head bashes and restraint from either capricious sexual scenes or profanity.

I found interesting that setting for this particular work, on the other hand; uses geographical details relating to Blackheath and Govett’s Leap area of Oz, are correct in physical detail, while the ambiance features of the town is made-up.

Happy to recommend John Howard Reid’s Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders for readers who enjoy cozy type tales filled with trepidation, red herrings, some inconsistency, little overt violence, an absence of profanity all in addition to more than a little idiosyncratic humor.

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