My rating: 2.5/3 of 5 stars
Series: A Lady Fan Mystery #1
Publication Date: September 6th, 2011 by Berkley Trade (first published January 10th, 1992)
Number of Pages: 368
2.5 Stars rounded up to 3
I loved the synopsis of this book when I read it and immediately purchased it. I loved the mystery itself, but the rest seemed more like a script for an over-the-top stage play with cardboard characters than it did anything representing real life. The relationships and conversations between servants and upper classes were so far off base that it was more fantasy than reality. Then – the view of the Bow Street Runners – absolutely ridiculous. In that period Bow Street couldn’t touch the peerage in any way, shape or form – they couldn’t even enter through the front door of the home, they had to go to the servants entrance and if the peerage didn’t want to allow them in or to talk to them, they didn’t have to. Members of the peerage would be tried before the House of Lords and they almost never, ever convicted each other of anything. So, a peer could, literally, get away with murder – especially against someone who ‘belonged’ to him – such as a wife.
According to Goodreads, this book was first published in 1992, so I’m hoping that it was a ‘learner’ novel for this author and the subsequent books (written over twenty years later) will be much better.
The book opens with the discovery of the murdered body of Lady Emily Fanshawe, Marchioness of Polbrook. Her husband is nowhere to be found and the only family member in residence is his brother Francis. Therefore, it is up to Francis to take charge and one of the most onerous things he has to do is to tell his mother that Emily has been murdered and Randal is missing.
When Francis arrives at his mother’s townhouse to tell her the news, he finds her having breakfast with her new (temporary) companion (Mrs. Ottilia Draycott) that she has only met late the night before. Ottilia offers to withdraw, but Francis invites her to stay since it will soon be all over town anyway. As Francis is telling his mother this distressing news, Ottilia is constantly interrupting with questions that are clearly none of her business. Instead of rebuking her, both the Dowager Marchioness and Francis let her continue, tell her how clever she is, and then she goes with them to the crime scene and she actually examines the scene and the body, etc. in the most intimate way.
Francis immediately gives Ottilia carte blanche to conduct the investigation because she is so smart, intuitive, and clever and he and his mother are just so dumb. Then she does really clever things like determining that someone could have entered the house through one of the doors – duh! She is so clever because – wait for it – she raised her brother’s two sons. Given that criteria, I should be a genius!
Ottilia rocks along with her investigation and ropes Francis into helping with parts of it until the mystery is solved and the murderer is revealed. In the meantime, everyone is constantly telling Ottilia how very clever she is and allowing her to ask the most intimate questions. The servants have the most casual of interchanges and relationships with the Dowager, Francis and everybody else. It is all just so very period inappropriate.
Then, there is the relationship that develops with Francis and Ottilia. I just didn’t see or feel it. They were like two cardboard characters and I couldn’t see where an attraction would be. There just didn’t seem to be any real passion.
There is also Ottilia’s propensity for giggling and making inappropriate jokes and comments during very serious, emotional, trying times. There were times when I was thinking that someone ought to give her a slap to show her that things were serious.
It is my intention to read another book in this series because the later ones have been released in the last few years and the author has had some time to grow in her craft. I’d like to see a more likable and relatable Ottilia. If Ottilia does have that growth, I’ll look forward to more books in the series.
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