Nobody's Sweetheart Now
If you have any kind of fondness for Nick and Nora Charles, then you’re probably going to get a kick out of Maggie Robinson’s Lady Adelaide series of cozy mysteries. If you try not to picture Adelaide as Carole Lombard, you won’t be able to avoid it!
Lady Adelaide Compton is in a bit of a pickle. Her husband – World War I hero Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton – has died in a car crash. Addie isn’t too sore about this, since their marriage was unhappy, and Rupert was cheating on her with a young, French blonde who happened to be his passenger on that fateful night. So Addie’s been trying to get on with mourning in a swanky and booze-soaked fashion while using the money she has to improve the crumbling family manse.
But unfortunately for Addie, Rupert’s not entirely gone. As she prepares for a soirée, he appears as an extremely annoyed ghost. It seems he must do a certain number of good deeds before he can move on from the corporeal plain and end up in the afterlife.
Then someone is murdered at Addie’s party (someone, Addie crossly notes, she did not invite). Kathleen Grant, the divorced wife of Addie’s sister’s secret fiancé (!) has been found in Addie’s barn – dead, naked and holding stalks of hay like a bridal bouquet. Ghostly Rupert is thrilled – an opportunity to do good has presented itself! But who among Addie’s guests killed Kathleen? Might it be Addie’s vegetarian but otherwise much more conventional younger sister? Addie and Cee’s blunter-than-a-brick mom? Lucas, Addie’s One-who-got-away, who suddenly seems interested in being caught?
While Addie and Rupert spar and Rupert tries to churn up enough goodwill to make his entrée into heaven a cinch, Inspector Devenand – Dev – Hunter of Scotland Yard arrives to investigate the murder. Stuck with a limp from the battle of the Somme (in which Rupert made his heroic charge), Dev does not suffer fools gladly; balancing his thirst for criminal justice with his Hindu faith, he tries to allow fairness to guide him. Cue sparks between Dev and Addie, jealousy from Rupert – and a killer who’s planning on adding to the pile of bodies. The threesome will have to work hard to accomplish their goals – that is, if they can do so before the killer finds them.
This book is such a hoot. Sharp, witty, effervescent and light as a champagne bubble, with the proper amount of procedural juice to keep the metaphorical wheels of the plot greased. Our ensemble is properly madcap like a Preston Sturges farce, and the mystery is genuinely complicated. I was entertained, completely so.
It’s impossible to dislike chatterbox Addie. With a pinwheel mind, light ankles and an acid tongue, she just wants to enjoy the frippery of widowhood, the joys of booze and the easy life she’s attained from both, but instead she’s stuck dealing with the foibles of everyone around her, trying to hide the lifelike dildo her friend Barbara gave her at Rupert’s funeral, and engaging the local vicar in discussions of the afterlife while juggling her interest in three very different men. Her world is bright and colorful, and following Addie is fun.
Just as much fun is Rupert, who just may be the most ridiculous person I’ve ever read about in my life. Being dead has given him a license to mischief that he eagerly applies. From spying on Addie to making arch comments on the investigation to torturing the ultimate perpetrator, he’s having a lot of fun with his afterlife. The likelihood he’ll ever be ‘good’ enough to ascend to the next plain of existence is very low, but he does care about it. A bit. His ornate way of speaking was slangy enough to make me chuckle.
As much as Addie hates him, she can’t HATE him. Or steady Lucas. Or the analytical and hunky Dev, who provides the third PoV of the book and is a dry-eyed Bogart type. Realistic while trying to be generous without being cynical, he’s a compelling hero, and his background (his father was a British war hero, his mother Indian) adds some interesting depth.
The mystery here is pretty fairly solid. I couldn’t pick the villain from the packed field of suspects, and everyone has a fairly good reason to want poor Kathleen dead. Nobody’s Sweetheart Now is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’ve got any fondness at all for the 1920s, cozy mysteries, imperfect heroes and stubborn ghosts that never, ever give up.