At the end of the 19th century, plucky, Irish-American Kathryn Ardleigh, orphaned as a child and raised in New York by an aunt and uncle on her mother’s side of the family, is without employment due to the recent death of her employer. Satisfied that she will be able to support herself minimally as an author of penny-dreadful novels, she receives a surprising offer from an unknown aunt on her father’s side of the family to come to England to work as the aunt’s secretary. Kathryn agrees, thinking that even if the employment doesn’t work out, she will gain knowledge of value for the protagonist of her novels. Once in England, she discovers she has two aunts she knew nothing of and they are keeping secrets she must solve in order to succeed in her new home.
This Victorian cosy features a modern and independent female protagonist who find herself thrown mid-stream into upper crust British society where servants and masters coexist, but not often graciously. Befriended on the train from London to Dedham, near the home her aunt has invited her to live and work, by Eleanor Marden, a lady of leisure somewhat younger, her brother Bradford, and Bradford’s friend, Sir Charles Sheridan. Sir Charles is Kathryn’s foil, a modern scientist, enthusiastic that photography, fingerprints, and detailed examination of evidence when solving crimes. Yet he can’t make up his mind if Kathryn’s modern ideas are rational or acceptable.
The pace of the plot in this story could have been faster since the title crime doesn’t occur until the last third of the book. Since this was intended to be the first in a serious of Victorian mysteries featuring Miss Ardleigh, the authors seem to feel the first two thirds of this book were necessary to set up the series, not just this first novel.
Genre: Historical Romance, British Detectives, Historical Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkeley, reprint edition
Publishing Date: July 1, 1998