Elspeth has an array of family and friends including a knighted suitor, a Maltese concert pianist aunt, a titled lady cousin who is a farmer, and two children, all of whom become involved in her assignments. Lord Kennington’s outrageously expensive boutique hotels themselves figure prominently in the books as well. Of course, no such hotels exist (worse luck) and even if they did, few of us could afford them.
Welcome to the world of Elspeth Duff, security advisor to Lord Kennington and his fleet of international luxury hotels. Elspeth, a Cambridge educated, savvy, chic, Scottish fifty-something, travels the world for Lord Kennington in order to resolve crises arising at his hotels.
The honourable Sir Richard Munro, KCMG, who at the beginning of the series, is the British High Commissioner to Malta and has had a distinguished career in the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), thus his knighthood. He semi-retired to Malta after the death of his wife. After many years he is reacquainted with Elspeth in A Murder in Malta, when he admits to Elspeth that he has loved her since meeting her in Scotland during summer holidays when he as at Oxford. Elspeth has always resisted his feelings. He is called ‘Dickie’ by Elspeth and her family because he resembles Lord Mountbatten of Burma. Richard is a sailing buff, keeping a sloop in Malta. In contrast Elspeth gets terribly seasick. (For non-British or Commonwealth readers, a high commissioner holds ambassadorial rank in the British Commonwealth countries.)
Lady Marjorie Munro, Richard’s wife, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Glenborough. She has known Richard since childhood. It was said that Richard married her because of her FCO connections. Their marriage seemed a perfect diplomatic match, but underneath it was a cold one. Marjorie was known for being very stiff, proper and correct. Elspeth is always jealous of her.
Eric, Lord Kennington, Elspeth’s employer and owner of the Kennington boutique hotel chain. He can be erasable and demanding of Elspeth but secretly he is fond of her. He relies on her to solve some of the most difficult problems at his hotels worldwide.
Pamela Crumm, Lord Kennington’s silent business partner, who is known for being able to placate him. She is not only one of Elspeth’s employers but also has become a close friend and advisor. Pamela is often overlooked because of her short stature and bent body (probably from scoliosis). She has large head, wears heavy, round, black framed glasses and is immaculately groomed. She manages brilliantly the day-to-day operations of the hotels.
Malcolm Buchanan, Elspeth’s fiancé at Cambridge, who is brutally murdered outside her college. Elspeth cannot forget him.
Tony Ketcham, Chief Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, who initially investigated Malcolm’s murder and is now an important figure at Scotland Yard.
Magdelena Cassar, Elspeth’s titular aunt, who lives in a converted farmhouse on the island of Gozo in Malta. She was a world-famous concert pianist and is now retired. She was the long-time partner of Elspeth’s uncle, Frederick Duff. Magdelena often consoles Elspeth, who calls her ‘Aunt Mag’.
Lady Elisabeth Baillie Shaw, called Biddy, is Elspeth’s first cousin, and superficially resembles her. Biddy manages Tay Farm on the banks of Loch Tay. She is calm and wise, often comforting Elspeth when she is upset. Biddy calls herself a ‘lady farmer’ and is much loved by those around her. She was married to Ivor Baillie Shaw, who died several years before the series begins.
Johnnie, Lord Tay, Biddy’s brother and Elspeth’s cousin. He is a close friend of Richard. In their teenage years, Johnnie and Elspeth often got up to mischief, much to Richard’s despair.
Peter Craig and Lizzie Foxworthy, Elspeth’s children. Peter lives in San Francisco, where he is an information technology lawyer, and Lizzie is married and lives in East Sussex, with her husband Denis and twin sons, Tom and Tim.
Alistair Craig, a lowland Scot who now is a fight and weapons choreographer in Hollywood. Elspeth impetuously had run off with him after she left Cambridge. Alistair and Elspeth divorced several years before the books begin.
James Duff, Elspeth’s father, one of the founders of the law firm Duff, Mac Bean and MacRoberts in Pitlochry, Perthshire.
Fiona Duff, her mother, the daughter of the seventh Earl of Tay who has dropped her title, and is an equalitarian, a trait she passes on to Elspeth. Sometimes Fiona can be a bit scatty.