Stall Turns by Penelope Haines – 2018

Stall turnsStall turns is the third in the Claire Hardcastle mystery series and starts with Claire and her detective boyfriend Jack Body having a well-earned break.  They are on their way to help with the Labour Day Weekend sheep muster on Jack’s uncle’s remote sheep station in the King Country.  Sounds fun, but what Claire hadn’t envisaged was the dead bodies, the earthquake, the flood, being buried alive, being drugged and left out in the bush to freeze to death or having to pilot a sabotaged plane!

Claire and Jack get a bit lost on the way to Uncle Pat’s and when Jack is trying to find someone for directions, Claire stumbles (literally) on human remains.  They are happy to leave the unfortunate find to the local Police and carry on to the sheep station.  Once there, Pat and his wife Joanne tell them the property they found the body on is a luxury lodge, often a discreet getaway for the rich and famous.  And that some of the staff and guests will be joining them on the muster.

Retakure Lodge is run by a Chinese outfit that caters for Chinese business people as well as international celebrities.  Some of their guests had joined the muster the previous year as well, and that they been “a feisty lot”, arguing all the time.  The novel starts stacking up like an Agatha Christie murder in a stately home, as characters and clues are introduced.  We meet a pair of Chinese brothers, “I wasn’t sure their values aligned with mine” muses Claire.  A Chinese Lodge employee Wu, who appears not to speak English and Phil the Lodge’s farm manager.

The muster is going well until nature intervenes and an earthquake sees Claire save a man’s life and then end up at the Lodge where more characters and interesting photos and bits of information are added.  Over the next days we get more natural disasters, more bodies, more being stranded and more clues as to what crimes may have been committed, and their possible motives.

I really enjoyed the clues and mystery solving of Stall turns, I had enjoyed Claire’s previous outing, Straight and level, however in that novel it is obvious what is going on, there’s no real mystery solving.  But in Straight and level Claire’s character is great, young, capable and confident; in Stall turns we get mystery, but we also get a mixed Claire, a times one with a whiff of Danielle Steel about her, knowing when “There are times it pays to be a girl”, politely putting up with endlessly being called “girlie”, and responsibly handing an olive branch to Jack after an unconscionable rant at her for going for a walk alone, and her later feeling guilty because she had disobeyed him.

We do get to see the ‘real Claire’ in Stall turns, saving lives, being bold, chatting “the magical world of aviation” with Brett the Lodge’s pilot.  And it could have been the stress and alcohol that led to her and Joanne having a giggling fit over the fantasy of George Clooney arriving on the scene!  And when (possibly for plot reasons) she and Joanne are left alone at the Lodge because Pat declares it would be “much better if I don’t have to worry about you two”, it is not surprising that marathon running and high country sheep station living Joanne and inventive and technically savvy (“Aviate, Navigate and Communicate “) Claire make a great thriller section of the novel.

We don’t really get to know the full story behind the murder mystery, or indeed what the final body count was; it wasn’t Jack’s case, and he and Claire just want to get out of there.  But we do find out enough to be satisfied.  And hopefully Claire will have got over her ‘lesser half’ stage by the time the next Claire Hardcastle mystery rolls around.

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