A Rogue's Company
I’m a big fan of historical mystery so I was happy to pick up the latest A Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair. A Rogue’s Company is the third volume of the series and I hate coming into a mystery series in the middle. So, I listened to the first two books in preparation for this one and I’m glad I did! A Rogue’s Company could be read as a standalone but you would miss out on some ongoing mysteries and great character development by not starting at the beginning.
When A Rogue’s Company starts, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge are enjoying their expanding business, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau, and Gwen is hopeful that she is finally well enough to regain guardianship of her six-year-old son. Robbie Her husband died during the war and in her grief, Gwen was sent (by her in-laws) to a sanatorium. Gwen’s mother-in-law has relaxed a little on the idea of Robbie returning to live with Gwen, but her father-in-law Lord Bainbridge, who has recently returned from a business trip to his mines in Africa, is completely against the idea.
In fact, Lord Bainbridge seems determined to stir up as much trouble at home as possible. He’s dismissive to his wife, cruel towards Gwen, and even mean to Robbie. He is also spending an inordinate amount of time at his club and seems anxious about business affairs. When Gwen suggests that it is time for him to let her vote the shares of Bainbridge Ltd. that her husband left her, Lord Bainbridge dismisses Gwen, going so far as to belittle her in front of the other board members.
At the same time, Iris and Gwen are confronted with a new problem at work – a client, Mr. Daile, who Gwen (with a natural talent for spotting subterfuge) feels is withholding information (at best) or lying to them (at worst). They are also concerned that they will have trouble matching him as he is their first client “of African descent”. Gwen and Iris are determined to do their best for Mr. Daile but when Gwen runs into him a few times near Lord Bainbridge’s home, she becomes more suspicious of his true interest in the marriage bureau. Could Mr. Daile’s true interest be with Lord Bainbridge and Bainbridge Ltd.? When another man from Africa is found murdered outside of Lord Bainbridge’s club, Gwen and Iris can’t help but suspect that Lord Bainbridge is somehow connected to Mr. Daile and the murder victim. Then a kidnapping happens and Gwen and Iris need to do everything in their power to foil the kidnappers and keep everyone safe.
A Rogue’s Company reminded me of the best parts of an Agatha Christie novel – great writing with the perfect smattering of clues sprinkled along the way. It also has clever, witty dialogue and a delightful cast. Gwen is something of an aristocrat – she has led a sheltered life and is enjoying her new-found freedom and skills. She’s beautiful and very tall, thus attracting attention (usually unwanted) wherever she goes. She is determined to be the best parent to her child while maintaining some personal independence and satisfaction, and each book shows Gwen gaining confidence and abilities. Iris is more difficult to figure out and I suspect that is deliberate. She was a spy during the war and did what needed doing. As such, she has a lot of demons to silence (and a drinking problem to keep under control), and she is most comfortable when taking risks. The risks in this book include dating a charming gangster and putting herself in harm’s way more often than necessary. She is a complicated character and I love how Ms. Montclair gives us a little more of Iris’ background with each book.
There are plenty of supporting characters in A Rogue’s Company. My only complaint with the story is that I wanted to find out what happened to them all – and I didn’t. They’re all well developed and I was surprised at the end that we weren’t given an idea of what was going to happen next for some of them. I understand that a few of the characters’ arcs will continue in future installments of the series but I hated leaving so many questions up in the air.
A Rogue’s Company will be enjoyed by readers of historical mysteries who love daring, fun heroines and the post World War II time period. I will definitely be picking up the next A Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery when it comes out!