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by Tessa Arlen
Minotaur, March 2016
318 pages
ISBN: 1250052505

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

England, pre-WWII. Churchill is blustering around as First Lord of the Admiralty, Tom Sopwith is drawing up plans for better airplanes, and the wealthy are warding off fear with grander and grander gatherings - at least so Lady Montfort theorizes. But no amount of diamonds and pretty dresses can ward off violent death if a murderer is determined to prevail, as Lady Montfort herself discovers yet again in the second novel in the series where she practices a bit of amateur sleuthing.

Lady Montfort is well-placed to ferret out the suspects since she not only attends the dinner where one of the guests is murdered but is among the first to discover the crime. Warned off investigating by Churchill, her husband, and the police, Lady Montfort nevertheless calls in her housekeeper and fellow sleuth Mrs Jackson and, under the guise of offering assistance in planning a gala, gains access for Mrs. Jackson to the household where the murder took place. Little by little, the two women gather clues, uncover deceptions and betrayals, and piece together the solution, all while attending magnificent operas, visiting an orphanage, and coping with the trials of domestic affairs.

Tessa Arlen does a nice job of capturing high society, and the descriptions of the events and homes are fun to read, although sometimes the pacing between description and plot isn't as smooth as it could be. The events shaking up the world at large in pre-war Britain are mostly treated as peripheral to the plot but are woven in with broad strokes and off-hand references and include real historic events and figures, from Churchill to ballet and opera stars, adding well-researched realism to the overall presentation. Arlen also handles the red herrings well, making Lady Montfort's investigation very believable as she lights on first one then another suspect. Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson are also well drawn, and the novel is a quick, entertaining read. The fact that the majority of the characters are merely sketched in and/or stereotyped doesn't deter from the entertainment value, and the finale, while convenient and not altogether believable, is still satisfying enough that the reader can look past his or her reservations and look forward to the next book in the series. The book also works well as a stand-alone novel, with just a few hints of what took place in the prior book to lay a bit of groundwork and entice those who haven't read it without giving anything away.

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

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, April 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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