The Body in the Garden
I’ve read many historical mysteries this past year. Many have been awesome, some not so great. The Body in the Garden rates somewhere in between – a well-written mystery with clever twists but a little too slow-paced for my taste, and featuring a heroine I never warmed to.
Lily Adler, a widow of three years, has just returned to London and is trying to make a new life for herself. Her best friend, society-loving Lady Walter, and her deceased husband’s best friend, Navy Captain John (Jack) Hartley, decide to help Lily re-enter society. She agrees to attend Lady Walter’s ball.
At the ball, Lily feels a bit overwhelmed by the crush of people and friends from her past, and wanders out to the garden in search of some peace. She finds herself overhearing parts of a heated argument between two men and listens curiously, but as things escalate, she beats a hasty retreat and quietly makes her escape back to the house. Before she reaches it, a shot rings out, and she rushes to the balcony only to bump into Jack. He did not hear the shot but he follows her back to the garden where they discover a body.
As the only witness to the argument, Lily imagines that she will be called upon to give information to the Bow Street constable, Mr. Simon Page. But no, Page dismisses her story as hysteria.
“I understand you’ve had quite a shock, and I sympathize. I can also see you want to help, and I appreciate that. But those of us who work with the law have a particular way of handling these matters. We like to stick to the facts.”
“I’m sure you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.” He smiled coldly. “Try to forget about the whole business. It really isn’t anything a lady of quality need concern herself with.”
Lily is stunned by this dismissal. With Jack’s escort, she tries the next day to visit the Bow Street offices and offer her information. What she finds out shocks her even more – the case has been closed after Lord Walter paid the constables to hush the matter up. Well, Lily will not be silenced. She decides to find the man’s killer herself, and with the help of a reluctant Jack, also enlists the help of a friend of the murdered man – an heiress from the West Indies.
The Body in the Garden is certainly an enjoyable read – the writing is tight and the characters are interesting. Lily is a clever heroine who is able to puzzle out the twists and turns of the case at a fast pace, and it was a pleasure to read her mind at work. It is hard to write an independent heroine from the early 1800s and Lily is often frustrated by the restraints on women at the time. But Ms. Schellman does a good job allowing some liberties with Lily’s behavior to keep the story moving while also being realistic.
Jack is relegated to the role of ‘supporting character’ and not ‘love interest’, at least not in this first book of the A Lily Adler Mystery series. Truthfully I was disappointed – I love a series where you can see an attraction building and the gazes heating up a bit, but there’s none of that here. I also never felt fully invested in the characters – Lily comes across a little too stand off-ish and we aren’t given enough information or action around Jack to form a solid opinion of him. I did enjoy the other supporting characters and the author does a good job building a large cast of characters for future novels.
This is Katharine Schellman’s début novel and, in spite of my quibbles, I did enjoy the mystery and the writing. I will read the next book in the series in hopes of a little more romance between Lily and Jack (or maybe Lily and Mr. Page?). At the end of the book, Lily decides to continue her sleuthing business – it will be interesting to see what she tackles next.