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by Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books , August 2021
304 pages
ISBN: 1496731603

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Countess Frances of Harleigh, the future Mrs. George Hazelton, is understandably upset when she is introduced, in her own home, to a French actress who insists SHE is Mrs. Hazelton; Frances is even more upset, and determined to find out the truth, when that actress is killed in her garden shortly thereafter.

It's almost more than a woman, even a Countess, can stand. First her mother is taking her little girl to France, and Nanny is headed off to visit family. A social acquaintance--how else does one refer to the lover who was with one's husband when he dies---asks for a major social favor. This favor wouldn't be needed if said woman had chosen to dally with a man who was discreet enough not to bring the affair to the attention of said woman's husband, a known prude.

Then Police Inspector Delaney brings a woman, a French actress, to her house because this actress has been declaring loudly in the police station that she is married to George Hazelton--the man to whom said Countess is engaged to be married. It doesn't help that the actress, Irena, insists she is related to the Russian royalty currently visiting London, and has more backstories than, people say, any decent woman should be flinging around.

George arrives. Upside? He says he is definitely NOT married to Irena. Downside? He knows her and can validate at least some of her tales. More downside? Irena is going to stay with Frances until some things are straightened out.

A man named Bradmore shows up and he says HE is married to Irena. Now he wants a divorce; his prospects are much improved since they wed. Then Bradmore disappears and Irena is found strangled in the garden. Delaney is almost sure he knows who the killer is, or should be. Frances and George have found, after not a whole lot of looking, several people with motives as least as good as theirs. Once again, they work together to save whatever social standing Frances still has and to uncover a ruthless killer.

FIANCEE'S GUIDE is the fourth in the Countess of Harleigh mystery series. The story lines and plots get more intricate, which is a pleasure for astute readers. The supporting characters are fleshed out and develop some lives of their own; another plus for most readers. Frances becomes feistier and more able to stand on her own; she is no longer the meek woman she was when she married the late Earl. It is clear that George is mostly very happy with this newer Frances, although every once in a while there is a bit of hesitancy in how he handles the newer woman. One can only hope future books continue this pattern of growth and intrigue while not losing any of the humor seen to date.

PJ Coldren has been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and reads broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. She lives in Northern lower Michigan with her spousal unit, one large cat, and two fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, July 2021

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