Bellfield Hall, or the Observations of Miss Dido Kent
Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean is the first installment in a new series of historical mysteries set in the Regency period, with a spinster as amateur sleuth. I am a sucker for this setup; so once I had read about this book’s existence, I had to get it. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.
Miss Dido Kent, an unmarried gentlewoman in her 30s, is on a visit to splendid Bellfield Hall, country seat of Sir Edgar Montague, to whose son and heir, Richard, Dido’s niece Catherine has just become engaged. One afternoon, the body of an unknown woman is found in the shrubbery. At the same time, young Richard Montague disappears. Catherine refuses to regard her engagement as ended, and so Dido, whose besetting sin is insatiable curiosity, undertakes to find out both why the woman was killed and why Richard is gone.
This works fine: Dido is a very likable heroine, and her exploits are both amusing to read about and quite plausible. Dido is no superhero or secret scientist; clues that would have baffled people at this period baffle her, too, and she does all her detecting through careful observation and interviewing people. Although she is sometimes a bit pushy and tactless to get information, she is never obnoxious or TSTL.
The guests at Bellfield Hall are an extremely mixed lot, and more than one character has a skeleton is his or her closet, not all of which are relevant to the murder. Finding out people’s secret motivations was great fun. There is a possible love interest for Dido, but as this is only the first volume in the series, the situation at the end is left fairly open.
The novel is mostly told in the third person, but interspersed are several letters Dido writes to her sister Eliza, which are written in a very dry tone and a delight to read.
Bellfield Hall was a fun read and a promising introduction to a new series. I plan on getting the second volume, A Gentleman of Fortune, when it’s published in Britain. For readers in the US, if you think the price of the hardback a bit steep, you might wait for the paperback or get it from the library, but it’s definitely worth checking out.