A Lady's Guide to Gossip and Murder
Dianne Freeman continues her series of light historical mysteries with A Lady’s Guide to Gossip And Murder, which combines cozy mystery and playful period romantic drama to create an entertaining – though not exceptional – historical mystery.
Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, is an American heiress for whom death has been an uncomfortably close companion. Her elderly, philanderer of a husband, Reggie, kicked the bucket before the start of the first book in the series and left her alone with a seven-year-old daughter named Rose. As this book opens, Frances is still mourning her sister-in-law, Delia, who died in book one. It’s the late summer season in London – just heading towards, the Glorious Twelfth (the start of grouse shooting season), boredom is everywhere and most of the gentry have retired to their country estates. Frances has no interest in hunting and is planning on spending some time with her younger sister Lily in quiet peace as Lily angles for a proposal from her sweetheart, Leo. But all hope of peace goes dashing out the window when Frances receives word that her friend Mary Archer has been murdered.
Mary was the sweet-seeming darling of the fashionable set, and Frances had hoped to marry Mary off to her cousin, Charles, but the courtship fizzled out, and in the end, Mary and Frances never became terribly close. Frances is stunned to learn from the investigating detective, Inspector Delaney, that Mary was a confidence keeper; she had hundreds of notes detailing the most intimate secrets of the elite stashed away in her home. Some of them were about Charles, making him a suspect; and some were about another cousin – Graham – and a bank dispute they were embroiled in, adding him to the suspect list.
Wanting to protect her family and find Mary’s killer, Frances once again aids the police – and once again her handsome bachelor neighbor, George Hazelton, is there to help her. Soon she learns that Mary has a complicated secret; she was the pseudonymous gossip columnist Miss Information in a local paper. Clearly, Mary held back some juicy tidbits, and clearly one of those tidbits was motivation for murder. But who is the murderer?
Part Harriet Vane, part Phyrne Fisher, Frances Wynn is a spirited and independent character whose cleverness remains tragically unnoticed by the light-minded society in which she lives. Her universe is familiar and yet not; and the way she digs out her clues and presents them to readers is intriguing.
I generally enjoyed the mystery to which Frances applies herself and many of the supporting characters. Her romance with George develops and percolates along nicely, and Charles, Lily and Rose are all believable. But while I definitely enjoyed the mystery, this book lacked that special spark that made The Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder so lively. The procedural works, the mystery makes sense, Frances and George are a delight, the family is interesting, and Frances is as fun as ever – but the intensity feels lower and a little less compelling in this one. That doesn’t make The Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder any less fun, but it does mean that my recommendation is less urgent than it might be were it quite as fun and fresh as the first novel. Oh well. Consider this a quick, breezy summer beach mystery.