A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem
To anyone who wants to read A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem after this review, I hereby issue a warning to ‘mind the gap’ as they say, the gap being the logic gap that pervades much of this disgruntled-acquaintances-to-lovers tale.
Lady Katherine – Kate – Bascomb is a blue-blooded widow who owns The London Gazette, a newspaper which has recently called out Scotland Yard’s botched investigation of the Ten Commandments serial killer. Her ink and paper gauntlet contributes to the “demotion” of one Inspector Andrew Eversham. But when Kate attends a genteel house party that turns into the scene of another homicide, she soon finds herself in company with the inspector, who gets sent along to solve it. They partner up in an arrangement that involves her doing an “interview” with him while she gets “to learn as much about your [Eversham’s] methods as I can”. The interview aspect of the deal is one of the many things that falls into the gap I mentioned and never pays off.
Kate is a pleasant heroine to read about. She has satisfying self-awareness and an ability to pick her battles. It’s ironic given the ‘mayhem’ of the title that the protagonist’s disposition lends the book a level of calm and an absence of theatrics. One incongruity in her character, however, is that though she espouses the value of being well-informed (and she’s a widow with at least one lover in her past), she’s got a blind spot about birth control: when she and Eversham have sex, she doesn’t even request he use Ye Olde Pull Out Method. Eversham’s no dazzler at detection and while much is made about how Kate “was architect of his downfall”, that’s partially hyperbole. He’s about as aware of personal boundaries as a puppy in an unfenced yard. Rather than allowing Kate to reveal at her discretion the private details of her past, Eversham gets her whole familial and marital history from the host of the house party, Kate’s supposed friend Lord Valentine. And he doesn’t have the excuse of needing it for the investigation either. He just wants to know because he loves her!?
The book’s biggest gap is the intimacy gap. Supposedly Kate and Eversham fall in love, but this is without knowing anything about each other (except through best friend blab sessions, see above). Strangely, the book points out this gap, mentioning on multiple occasions “they hadn’t discussed” this, that, or the other – like are your parents dead or alive? The intimacy disconnect permeates the chemistry and sex in this book too. There is a smattering of descriptions that feel about as hot as a decorative fireplace, which are supposed to be a build-up to the sex scene (just one), and the sex is very one-sided in Kate’s favor. She displays no interest in finding out if there’s anything in particular that brings Eversham pleasure – and since there are no further sex scenes, we’re left with no reason to believe that will ever change. Luckily for her, Eversham seems totally fine with this.
The mystery aspect is underwhelming. The set-up seems like a classic Country House Party Murder . . . except Eversham and Kate spend a good deal of time away from the house following leads in other parts of the countryside. Again, mind the gap.
Nouns like ‘mischief’ and ‘mayhem’ imply naughtiness, quick-paced happenings, and witty fun. I can’t say I detected much of any of that in this book.