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by Caro Peacock
Harper, June 2009
440 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 000724424X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Liberty Lane now divides her time in the London of 1839 between working as a piano-teacher and undertaking commissions as a private investigator, the majority of the latter reaching her through her acquaintance with Benjamin Disraeli. In A CORPSE IN SHINING ARMOUR, the third in the series, she is hired to investigate a very peculiar claim. Lord Brinkburn is an aristocrat of somewhat dubious reputation who has recently taken to proclaiming himself the Emperor Hadrian and therefore been confined to an asylum. His wife, Lady Brinkburn, has made the astonishing claim that their eldest son, Stephen, is not in fact her husband's and is therefore illegitimate and ineligible to inherit his father's title, property and money which would devolve upon his younger brother Miles. Not surprisingly Stephen and Miles are at daggers drawn, especially as they are rivals for the affection of the society beauty of the season. Murder is added to the brew when Miles invites Liberty to inspect the family armour which has been brought to London for display; when the packing cases are opened inside one of them is a corpse, who turns out to be Handy, Lord Brinkburn's erstwhile servant. Liberty is instructed by Lomax, the lawyer handling the case, to go down to Lady Brinkburn's house and obtain proof that she is mad so that her testimony can be discounted; she is strictly enjoined not to investigate the murder and not to consider the possibility that the story might be true. Of course, Liberty being Liberty, these are instructions which she completely disregards, especially when she finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Lady Brinkburn.

Perhaps time really does heal most things. I found myself regretting the loss of Nell Bray (Caro Peacock is the pen name of Gillian Linscott, the creator of that wonderful character and series) far less than in the previous two entries in the Liberty series. Or perhaps it is just that Peacock has finally found exactly the right tone and voice for this series. Liberty has always been an engaging heroine but she has now lost that rather annoying innocence which was over-emphasised in the first book (DEATH AT DAWN); here she occupies her ideal ground, investigating shenanigans in the upper-class and observing their ruthless determination to keep up a front of respectability and order. Disraeli - and Peacock's use and description of this character continues to delight - provides an ideal conduit for Liberty to penetrate this world. It must be admitted that the historical detail is light but the pacing is excellent, the narrative continually engaging, the characterisation interesting if without any great depth, and Liberty an increasingly charming companion.

However the great strength of this book is in the plot. Peacock achieves one of those plots which makes absolutely perfect sense when it is revealed, but I for one certainly did not see coming. As far as fooling the reader and providing a coherent but genuinely surprising plot is concerned A CORPSE IN SHINING ARMOUR succeeds admirably. Given this and the other positive features I have outlined above it is quite possible that if the forward and upward trajectory of this series continues I may not even mention Nell Bray at all by the time of the fourth entry; not because the Caro Peacock books will replace, let alone surpass, the Gillian Linscott ones, but because the Liberty Lane series will have established enough of an identity of its own for each book within it to be considered on its own merits. This entry is most certainly the best and most enjoyable to date and boasts one of the year's cleverer plots.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, November 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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