Cruel Winter (County Cork #5)by Sheila Connolly

Published March 14th 2017 by Crooked Lane Books

4 Stars

Synopsis: Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons–and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder.
Maura’s been in Ireland less than a year and hasn’t heard about the decades-old unsolved crime that took place nearby, let alone the infamous suspect, Diane Caldwell. But the locals have, and they’re not happy to be trapped with her. Diane, meanwhile, seeks to set the record straight, asserting her innocence after all this time. And since no one is going anywhere in the storm, Maura encourages Diane to share her side of the story, which she’d never had a chance to do in court.
Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case–and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case? A clever spin on the classic locked room mystery, Cruel Winter, the fifth in New York Times bestselling author Sheila Connolly’s series, will delight fans of the Emerald Isle.

My Review: This is the fifth book in the County Cork series by Sheila Connolly, but only the second one that I have read. This book can be read as a stand alone as there is enough background about how Maura ended up in County Cork that you can catch up quickly. I would recommend that if given the opportunity, you read the others first so you have a complete idea of who the characters are and the situation.
Winter in Ireland does not usually get much snow, but when the storm blows through in this story, Maura, friends, co-workers, and strangers are stranded at Sullivan’s Pub to wait out the storm. They have plenty of ale and fuel for the fire, but food is scarce as well as beds if they need to spend the night. When the power goes out, they have a couple of kerosene lanterns and candles but that is about it. As people straggle in, one of the strangers is Diane Caldwell. Diane’s grandparents had a farm in the area that she inherited and used as a vacation home, that is until she was suspected of brutally murdering her neighbour, another Londoner with a vacation home. There was not enough evidence to arrest her, and the case is still open. The locals still think she did it and when she is recognized at the pub, some sparks and allegations begin to fly. Diane has lived with this for twenty years, never getting the chance to tell her side of the story. Because they are all stranded, there is nothing to do and they are a captive audience, they decide to revisit the crime and see if they can figure out if someone else could possibly have been the murderer. With Diane’s blessing and participation, the investigation begins.
The author gives the story a few twists, now that there are fresh eyes looking at the situation. They create a suspect board and set out several hypotheses of what happened, some pretty hilarious. Diane tells her story and Maura and the other patrons ask questions and test out theories trying to find some way to prove Diane really is innocent and maybe give the gardai a new lead on this old crime.
The characters in this story are wonderful and complex. I love Maura, but I really love Old Billy. He is an elderly man that holds court in the pub each day telling stories and living upstairs. This time his knowledge of the history and the land in the area help Maura and the others to keep pushing forward with new ideas. The one character that I disliked immensely was Jimmy. He is lazy, nasty and takes advantage of everyone he can. His daughter Rose is such a sweetheart and deserves better. Side stories include Gillian, a pregnant friend who is going to have some major changes and decisions coming up in her life.
This reminds me of an old time mystery. It is a cold case, not a recent murder with a lot of clues around. This one will take ingenuity, lots of questions and a little luck to solve. Very entertaining. This book will be a hit with those who love stories about Ireland, old time mysteries like those written by Agatha Christie as well as those who like some drama. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.