MErryll manning:  the health farm murders
A mystery thriller, set against the spectacular scenic backdrop of an imaginary health farm in the small mountain township of Blackheath in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, west of Sydney, Australia, this is the second suspense novel featuring Sergeant Merryll "Merry" Manning of the Miami Police Department. Sergeant Manning debuted in "Merryll Manning: Trapped on Mystery Island" in 2008. Although the characters are entirely fictitious, the plot itself was adapted from several factual incidents that occurred in Mexico, Chile, Peru and other mountainous areas of South America. The geographical details relating to Blackheath and Govett's Leap are accurate in every detail, although the "atmosphere" attributed to the town is purely imaginary. The health ideas touted in the book, however, are based on the advice of several highly respected nutritionists, including Mary C. Hogle and C.E. Clinkard.
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Miami Police Sergeant Merryll Manning is on vacation at a health farm in Australia after answering an ad that promises a return to health and happiness. Just what he needed, or so he thought. Merryll's hopes for rest and relaxation are quickly dashed when a fellow guest is found dead.
Available for the first time in North America, this is the second of twelve Merryll Manning books first published in Australia in 1985 by author John Howard Reid. Despite being a sequel, the book reads well as a stand-alone, and there is no need to read the prequel to become accustomed to the character.
Sister Susan's Health Farm is set in fictional Happy Valley, based on Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. Author Reid introduces a large cast of intriguing characters, each of whom have retreated to the farm for their own unique reasons. His protagonist is no stereotypical detective; Merryll (Merry) Manning is a sophisticated, eccentric policeman rather than the macho, ego-driven cops so common in the mystery genre.
When a retired film exhibitor is found dead and the local police arrive, there is immediate friction between Merryll and police sergeant George Lambert. Lambert's police skills appear limited and Merryll questions the sergeant's ability to solve a homicide. Lambert points the finger of guilt at local thug James "Jimbo" Punter. Merryll suspects the sergeant has a personal bias against Punter and learns Jimbo once had an affair with Lambert's wife.
Another guest is found dead. Merryll turns up clues that put nearly every one of the twelve vacationers, and even the proprietress Susan Delaflore, under suspicion at one time or another in the story. An enormous police manhunt for Punter begins in the vast valley. Meanwhile, the survivors of Sister Susan's farm set out on the final hike of the visit to Pulpit Rock Lookout. The hike is vigorous and dangerous as the author brings all the players together for an epic confrontation, but keeps the reader guessing the true identity of the killer until the final pages.
The author has a knack for scene-painting narrative. His vivid descriptions of the mountain scenery and the simple accommodations of the farm effectively put the reader right in the scene, watching the drama unfold. Mr. Reid has penned a captivating, soft-boiled detective story with a strong main character, a terrific supporting cast, and a plot with twists, turns, and plenty of red herrings. He treats the reader to a tale filled with tension, conflict, and quirky humor. The violence is minimal and there is no foul language.
I highly recommend Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders. This is an intelligent, old- fashioned-styled mystery that won't disappoint. Those who love a great whodunit will be hooked. Merryll is a superb hero and this is sure to be an entertaining, enjoyable series.

William Potter, Readers' Choice Reviews

Going on vacation to the world down under is a dream for most of us, but Merryll Manning not only gets to travel to Australia but to a health farm to learn about healthy living. A dream come true?
Miami is the home of police sergeant, Merryll Manning who finds himself in his mother's homeland of Australia on a week long vacation to a health farm. He is first seen on a train with various other colorful characters also attending the farm. Each person brings his own fears and idiosyncrasies to the Blue Mountains. However, Merryll Manning soon finds himself in the middle of several murders and in the crosshair of the local Sergeant, George Lambert. The colorful characters all seem to be hiding something and it looks like it is up to Sergeant Manning to solve the crime. A local, who had an affair with Sergeant Lambert's wife seems to be the most likely suspect, but is he just the scapegoat for the affair? Can Sergeant Manning solve this crime before he loses his own life?
This book was first published in Australia and England and had a great following and finally a decade later it is being released in the United States. The story travels through roads that I have yet to tread and this author makes me want to visit with his vivid descriptions of the land. He even makes the desolate areas sound intriguing.
I was a bit confused at the start of the story because of all of the people involved in the story so I really appreciated the cast of characters at the beginning of the book to keep them straight. This is a book you have to follow through to the final word. You never know when one character will reach out and just surprise you with something they did or had done to them. After I started to figure out who was who, the story flew and kept me interested until the very last page. I did find my vocabulary was greatly enhanced by the time I finished the book. It was an enjoyable read and I'd recommend this for anyone who is up for a challenge of who done it. I hope Mr. Reid gets to share some other adventures of Merryll Manning with the folks here in the U.S.

Jacque Stengel, TCM Reviews

"Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders" is a well-written story full of intrigue and suspense that will keep you turning pages until the final surprising outcome. John Howard Reid wrote this story twelve years ago, and now it is finally making its way into the United States market. It is the second of twelve in the Merryl Manning series. The story is written about a town named Happy Valley, but it is actually based on the real town of Blackheath, Australia, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The characters are fictional but the events are based on actual murders that took placed in a few different places and venues.
Merryll "Merry" Manning is taking a well-earned vacation from the Miami Police Department, or is he? He arrives at Sister Susan's Health Farm in Happy Valley, Australia excited at the prospect of doing something healthy and restful from his stressful job. He quickly finds himself in the middle of an investigation as the other visitors at the Health Farm start dying. Police Sergeant Lambert is quick to blame Jimbo Punter, a local who had an affair with the Sergeant's wife. Merry is not convinced that Jimbo is involved and looks at everyone as a suspect. Each of the suspects is a very colorful character, but do they have the potential of turning into deadly killer?
The author does an excellent job of describing the local countryside in detail. The story setting is in a beautiful valley that was burned by fire. It includes a harrowing hike through the sometimes beautiful, sometimes desolate terrain that has many landslides, sheer cliffs and rivers - all places for people to meet unfortunate ends. As Merry is fully immersed in this nightmare, he finds part of the truth to what has been happening as he almost loses his life. The other part of the truth comes out later and is very surprising.
I recommend the "Merryll Manning: Health Farm Murders" by John Howard Reid to mystery fans; it makes for a great summer read.

Cherie Fisher, Reader Views