For those who are in the doldrums after last week’s final episode of season five of Downton Abbey and in need of another English country manor house upstairs/downstairs story, Tessa Arlen’s debut novel could fit the bill.
Set at the fictional estate of Iyntwood in the summer of 1913, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a murder mystery in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse. Here is a brief preview and review for your consideration:
Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.
Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.
In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life–a superb treat for those who love British novels.
I was deeply impressed with Arlen’s debut mystery. Her choice to have two women from different social strata team-up was very clever—defining the social hierarchy of the era and their personalities very keenly. Lady Montfort, the mistress of Iyntwood and her housekeeper Mrs. Jackson are a perfect combination of creativity and logic similar to P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, master & servant duo. While Wodehouse’s famous mystery series is at times more comedy than mystery, I found Arlen’s take on the traditional English country house mystery much more of a serious social commentary.
Starting off with a gruesome murder Teddy Mallory, the gamester and miscreant nephew of Lord and Lady Montfort, the clues are very pale and you must pay attention closely. Interestingly as the story unfolds, the unlamented Teddy is the real star of the show because of his twisted backstory which we learn about over the course of the novel. Despite the fact that the most intriguing character in the book is dead from the get-go—what unravels is a cleverly crafted, entrancing mystery filled with fascinating characters, beautiful descriptions of aristocratic life in England before WWI and a social commentary that will haunt you. Brava to Arlen for a stunning debut novel.
4 out of 5 Stars
Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery, by Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books (2015)
Hardcover & eBook (320) pages
Cover image courtesy of Minotaur Books © 2015; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2015, Austenprose.com
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