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by Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, January 2015
310 pages
ISBN: 1250052491

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lady Montfort and her housekeeper Mrs. Jackson know how to host a ball that will be the talk of all the social circles. This year, though, the brilliance of the entertainment is quickly overshadowed by the murder of Lady Montfort's disreputable nephew, and the social circles are quick to circulate the gossip of the gruesome act and the rumors of nefarious deeds behind it. In an unprecedented step, Lady Montfort joins forces with her housekeeper to solve the mystery, salvage as much of the family's reputation as possible, and rid the house of the presence of the rude Scotland Yard inspector who simply has no sense of how things are done. As they work to uncover the identity of the murderer, Lady Montfort and Mrs Jackson find themselves in the midst of plenty of other under-the-radar scandals including blackmail, adulterous affairs, rape, robbery, and the Women's Suffragette Movement.

Sound familiar at all? Set in an English country house in the era between WWI and WWII, DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN makes no effort to disguise its design to appeal to Downton Abbey fans. In fact, it plays up the relationship with everything from the illustration on the dust jacket and the interplay of "upstairs/downstairs" characters to some of the plot elements. Lord Montfort even has dogs that resemble those of the PBS series, and many of the characters seem to be stand-ins for those on the show. The trouble with that is, of course, that the characters on the show are such strong, well-known personalities that it doesn't leave much room for characterization in a novel that borrows so heavily from someone else's successful imagining of people and places.

Nor is the novel's plot particularly strong or well-paced: the characters spend quite a bit of time mulling things over, wandering around, and going horseback riding rather than doing anything that actually and actively moves the story forward.

However, in spite of all of that, the book is an enjoyable read if you're looking for something light to tide you over between Downton Abbey episodes. The sketchily drawn stock characters are, nonetheless, often quite charming (Mrs. Jackson even has a few sparks of real personality), the setting and plot, while often contrived, are still fun to follow, and everything gets tied up tidily at the end.

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, January 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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