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A DEATH BY ANY OTHER NAME
by Tessa Arlen
Minotaur, March 2017
321 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250101425


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A DEATH BY ANY OTHER NAME is the latest installment in Tessa Arlen's Lady Montfort series, and like its predecessors, it showcases the intelligence and deductive abilities of Lady Montfort and her housekeeper Edith Jackson. A great deal of the charm of this series rises from watching these two women at work, and Arlen's likeable characters gain more depth with each novel. Arlen also does a nice job of weaving real-world, historical elements into these stories set in Edwardian England, and this time, the fact that Europe is on the brink of World War I adds tension to an already intriguing tale.

At the start of the novel, Mrs. Jackson has just returned from a well deserved vacation, but before she's even fully unpacked, she and Lady Montfort are embroiled in another mystery. A cook has been accused of food poisoning a guest at a nearby country house, and Lady Montfort vows to clear the woman's name. Since the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll is visiting Lady Montfort, she has the perfect excuse to invite herself, Miss Jekyll, and Mrs. Jackson to Hyde Castle where an amateur rose society—and the main suspects in the possible murder case—have gathered. During days filled with lavish meals, a rose contest, middle-class quirks, and the gathering threat of war in Europe, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson uncover the clues that point not to food poisoning but actual poisoning and murder.

Although this is a cozy mystery set at a country house among relatively genteel people doing ordinary things, Arlen manages to keep tension fairly high by mixing in intrigue and social commentary beyond the central murder mystery. She also adds in some nice historical touches (other than the looming war) with a seance and Miss Jekyll's appearance, as well as the overall interest in gardening, the rise of the middle class, and women's roles in society. Equally importantly, Arlen keeps the reader guessing almost to the end by planting red herrings and neatly narrowing the suspects, allowing the reader to keep pace with but not pass the perceptive amateur detectives working to solve the case. And, finally, Arlen adds in just a touch of romance with the reappearance of Mrs. Jackson's friend, the garden designer Mr. Stafford. That, along with the Montforts' connections to France and the emerging Air Force, promise more interesting tales to come. A DEATH BY ANY OTHER NAME is fine as a stand-alone novel, but watching the characters develop and anticipating more development to come make it all the more enjoyable.

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

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, March 2017

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