Grab some tea and settle in for a whodunit mystery. Miss Willoughby (Nathalie Cox) is on the case. 

Orphaned as a child, raised by a family friend (Kelsey Grammer), and skilled in strategy, literature, and martial arts, there’s no case Miss Willoughby can’t solve. But even she is baffled when a longtime friend tells her that a ghost is haunting the bookstore she runs. Is someone playing a trick on the poor woman? Is it a hallucination? Or is something more sinister going on?

Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop Review

In a niche carved out by Miss Marple and Nancy Drew, and solidified by the likes of Phryne Fisher and Jessica Fletcher, one Miss Willoughby has some big shoes to fill. (And to cut off any early complaints at my comparison of lady detectives, I would direct you to the marketing for the film, which declares, “Move over Miss Marple, there’s a smart, stylish new detective in town.”)

The Haunted Bookshop certainly goes through great lengths to convince the audience of Miss Willoughby’s vast talent and capabilities. The film opens with a montage of her youthful accomplishments: plowing through book after book, out-maneuvering family-friend-turned-parental-figure Robert at chess, and learning multiple forms of martial arts. And the grown-up Miss Willoughby certainly seems poised and stylish, as promised.

But does she live up to her lofty expectations?

In short? Not really.

I love a mystery-solvin’ lady, and I wanted to love Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop. But what stands out the most about Miss Willoughby as a movie is that it just… doesn’t stand out. Quite frankly, it was pretty flat and boring. 

Nathalie Cox as Miss Willoughby

On paper, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s a mystery! There’s a ghost, and a kidnapping, and maybe even murder! Our detective has the smarts and the kick-ass-ability to unravel the case and take on anyone who comes her way! I am writing exclamation points to convince myself these are exciting things!

Unfortunately, none of these elements really come together as strongly as they should. Despite grounding its core mystery in a haunting, the ghostly apparition in question never really builds the thrills it should. Similarly, much of the plot progresses at a crawl, with few scenes jumping out and making you pay attention. The movie barely scrapes an hour and a half, but feels much longer. It also seems like the kind of story where you could watch the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes and still reasonably understand everything that happened. It just feels like the bulk of the plot never gives us anything to really sink our teeth into.

Miss Willoughby handles her delicate case with an endearing kindness, but doesn’t pick up on enough breadcrumbs to lead up to the big reveal. Don’t get me wrong – she solves it, in the end. (Uh, spoilers, I guess?) And the explanation she provides does prove she knew what she was doing all along. But we don’t get nearly enough “small wins” – you know, where the detective picks up on little details as the story progresses and reveals their meaning to us, proving their mettle and keeping up audience intrigue. This, combined with a lack of a true “red herring” and subpar thrills, means Miss Willoughby fails to deliver a truly compelling whodunit.

Kelsey Grammer as Robert and Nathalie Cox as Miss Willoughby

All in all, Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop is a supremely middle-of-the-road film. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. The performances are fine, but not standout. The mystery doesn’t fully deliver, but the story at least shot for some emotional resonance that demonstrates it wanted to provide more than just thrills.

Were Miss Willoughby’s adventures to continue, I might give her a second chance to impress me – but maybe that’s just because I’ll have forgotten all about her by the time another film rolls around.

Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop is now available on digital VOD and DVD.

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