There’s a captivating sense of gothic tension filling Finding Lady Enderly, a romance that mixes suspense, a rags-to-riches Cinderella story, elements of faith and class division all in one fascinating wrapper.
Raina Bretton is miserably poor working as a rag picker in London’s East End. She’s on her nightly rounds when a man approaches her with a fancy dress and jeweled shoes and offers her a respectable position at a high class household called Rothburne Abbey, a former monastery that’s the current home of Lyn, the Countess of Enderly. The post will pay her the princely sum of a hundred pounds a year – unthinkable to an orphan who has lived all her life in poverty. The man says he sees beauty, spirit, poise and dignity in her that could be cultivated into something more – something hard for the girl cruelly called ‘Ragna’ by her neighbors - to believe. Raina is tempted enough by the promise of warmth and safety to go to the Abbey, allowing the solicitor to usher her onto the train when she changes her mind at the last minute.
At the tumbled down Rothburne Abbey, poppies bloom in the autumn and an entire garden hides between floors. Raina soon learns there’s a reason why she’s been selected to lounge in the lap of luxury – her benefactor is Victor Prenderghast, the Countess’ solicitor, and he has plucked her from poverty because she’s a dead ringer for the real countess who wishes to rest in seclusion after a voyage to India while Raina doubles for her until she’s recovered enough to rejoin society. With Victor whispering in her ear that she could have the world on a platter – and manipulating her using the Biblical story of Esther as a model - Raina soon finds herself enmeshed in the high class mystery of Lady Enderly’s world.
And then she meets the house’s new stablemaster and her heart stops. For he is the long-lost sweetheart she was told had died at sea. Sullivan “Sully” McKenna has come to Rothburne Abbey to hide from court marshaling after rallying his fellow sailors in a mutiny against the aggressions of a cruel captain. Victor chooses to hold this over Raina’s head – continue her masquerade and he will get Sully legal counsel and won’t tell anyone about her culpability in his plot, but if she refuses, she’ll be thrown in prison along with her beloved. So, against her better judgment and moral compass, she becomes Lady Enderly, fighting Phillip’s management of her tenants, warding off the strangely withdrawn Earl of Enderly, forming relationships with the countess’ friends and moving in her circles – and all the while Sully worries that Raina is in danger. What happened to the countess – and why would Victor do anything to keep the secret of her hiatus under wraps?
Finding Lady Enderly is a solid gothic mystery that has a surprising denouement and a lot of complicated monsters lurking between its pages. None of its characters are paragons of perfection, which makes watching Raina’s roam through the upper class’ environs a fascinating process to watch. The major demon she must tackle is self-image and vanity; only when she can put others above herself, will her mission be fully completed.
The supporting characters all draw the eye and the imagination, from the horribleness of Victor to the fascinating humanity of the Earl of Enderly. They provide pieces to a puzzle that’s well-secluded and whose conclusion is truly shocking.
Religion is handled fairly well within the story’s confines. Sully is a Vicar’s son, and Raina yearns to know God as he does – and through the inspiration of Esther and the world in which she has been plunged, Raina comes through her trial by fire and realizes that God works through others in mysterious ways. Her romance with Sully is desperately conducted through notes and snatches of song as they try to hide the true nature of their union – it’s fraught and dramatic and interesting.
I have one minor quibble with the book; the dialogue sometimes feels pretty stiff and stagey. It’s is a minor problem, truly, but sometimes it really is distracting. Overall though, Finding Lady Enderly is a twisty, surprising little delight of a mystery.
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