A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A Fiancée's Guide to First Wives and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #4)Barbara’s Rating:  5 of 5 Stars

Series: Countess of Harleigh Mystery #4
Publication Date: 7/27/21
Period: Victorian London – 1899
Number of Pages: 304

Goodness Gracious Me – I do believe I’ve become addicted to Countess of Harleigh and George Hazelton! Each book in the series seems to get better than the last and I come to appreciate the intrepid duo and their cast of friends more and more. I had hoped we’d have a wedding in this one, but we fell just a tad short in our timing, so, surely the next book will either contain the wedding or it will have already happened and we’ll be off on – perhaps an adventurous honeymoon. Who knows? Either way, I can’t wait.

Things are all abuzz in London with the visit of Duke Michael Mikhailovich and his wife, Sophie, Countess de Torby who are members of the ruling Romanov family of Russia. While it isn’t a state visit – since Mikhailovich is exiled from Russia – Prince Albert still wants to fete them. So, it was with a heavy heart that Frances, Countess Harleigh, canceled her trip to Paris to purchase a gown for her engagement ball. Still, she’ll have a lovely Parisian gown, but it will be chosen by her 8-year-old daughter and her mother who is still making the trip.

Frances has hardly seen her mother and daughter off when Inspector Delaney shows up at her door with a young woman, Irena Teskey, in tow. This young woman insists she is the wife of George Hazelton. OMGoodness! Frances doesn’t believe it for a minute and can’t wait for George to arrive and straighten it all out. Too bad the whole thing is witnessed by Alicia Stoke-Whitney. Will the woman keep it quiet? This could be a huge scandal because gossip spreads like wildfire among the ton – whether it is true or not.

When George denies it, the young woman keeps insisting it is true. She also insists someone has sent her threatening letters and someone has been following her. Oh! And by the way, she is under arrest for throwing a rock at the Russian duke. Yes, Irena is quite a piece of work. She’s spoiled, immature, petulant, whiny, and maybe just a tad barmy as well. Yet, when she turns up dead – In Frances’s garden – perhaps there was something to her story after all.

Now, Frances and George not only have to prove George wasn’t married to Irena – they have to prove he didn’t murder her. Putting all of the pieces together and solving the puzzle of Irena’s background and who murdered her will not be easily done. Even if George can convince everyone he wasn’t married to Irena – he really can’t convince anyone he didn’t murder her.

There are suspects aplenty because it seems everybody who encountered the young woman was soon ready to strangle her. There are many red herrings, false trails, and questionable characters, but through it all, Frances’s belief in George never wavers. She’s willing to face down the ton and any gossip in support of George. She’s steadfast and unwavering. What a great female lead character.

While there is a serious murder mystery to be solved and a heart-fluttering romance, there are also some light moments. One of my favorite lighter moments was Frances’s first ride in a motor car. The descriptions are delightful and her reactions are priceless. Her verdict is, of course, that those things will never replace a horse and buggy.

I can definitely recommend this book because it is a wonderfully well-written, perfectly paced, and well-delivered story. The characters are delightful and you will come to like them more and more each time you meet them. Of course, the villain is unexpected and the motive, while not totally unexpected, is still a surprise. I can hardly wait for the next book in the series.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Avid reader/reviewer of historical romance and historical mysteries.

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