Frances Wynn, the American-born Countess of Harleigh, enjoys more freedom as a widow than she did as a wife. After an obligatory year spent mourning her philandering husband, Reggie, she puts aside her drab black gowns, leaving the countryside and her money-grubbing in-laws behind. With her young daughter in tow, Frances rents a home in Belgravia and prepares to welcome her sister, Lily, arriving from New York–for her first London season.
No sooner has Frances begun her new life than the ghosts of her old one make an unwelcome appearance. The Metropolitan police receive an anonymous letter implicating Frances in her husband’s death. Frances assures Inspector Delaney of her innocence, but she’s also keen to keep him from learning the scandalous circumstances of Reggie’s demise. As fate would have it, her dashing new neighbor, George Hazelton, is one of only two other people aware of the full story.
While busy with social engagements on Lily’s behalf, and worrying if Reggie really was murdered, Frances learns of mysterious burglaries plaguing London’s elite. The investigation brings death to her doorstep, and Frances rallies her wits, a circle of gossips, and the ever-chivalrous Mr. Hazelton to uncover the truth. A killer is in their midst, perhaps even among her sister’s suitors. And Frances must unmask the villain before Lilly’s season–and their lives–come to a most unseemly end…
If you don’t know much about me, one of my biggest passions is Victorian England. I have an unhealthy obsession with people I have never met, a place I don’t live in, and a time before my grandparents were even born.
Charles Dickens is my hero. I insisted on visiting 221B Baker Street the one time I vacationed in London. And don’t get me started on serial publications at the time because we will be here for hours.
So, naturally, I gravitate toward books written in that time. Dianne Freeman’s novel, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, takes place during the height of Victorian England, centering on a recently widowed woman as she moves from the country back into the city in search for independence and purpose.
Freeman is a master of dialogue. And she uses it liberally. Much of what happens occurs in dialogue, with many of the characters discussing the case at various points in time. I, personally, love dialogue heavy stories: I feel the reader can learn a great deal about a character through their speaking. If the writer does it properly. And Freeman is one of those writer’s. All her characters are nuanced through their speaking lines and it was one of my favorite elements of the book.
That being said, I know some people out there don’t enjoy dialogue heavy narratives. If so, this isn’t the mystery for you. And she does have a tendency to be superfluous in explaining the mystery through her characters discussing it. I can see why she did so: it’s helpful to the reader to keep track of the mystery. But if you binge read in large periods of time like I do, the constant summarizations can be tiresome.
The characters were a wonderful cast, and I appreciated how each woman was portrayed: instead of sticking strictly with the angel in the home (that woman who is all goodness and, well, angelic) we have a main heroine who can be stubborn. An aunt with a sharp business mind. An American debutante who considers her elder sister’s wisdom but doesn’t let that dull her sharp tongue. And a lady with a keen sense of judging a person’s character constantly ditching her brother’s breakfast table for gossip. I greatly appreciated the cast of female characters, with their quirks and flaws, but felt a little disappointed with the men, George in particular. We have this enigmatic man of espionage but he seems to be the ideal knight in shining armor Frances needs—where are his flaws, his problems? He seems too good to be true and I truly hope, in the next books, we see a more well rounded character.
Overall, I loved this book, and I’ve already recommended it to my friends because I know they’ll love it too. It had a well thought out mystery, snappy dialogue, and a wonderful cast of women characters. The redundancy in the dialogue and the flatness of George’s character were my only drawbacks, but they were so small and hardly detracted from the story. I’d give it an exuberant 4 out of 5 stars.