Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen
Book 1 in the Lady Montfort Mystery series
ARC, e-book, 321 pages
January 6, 2015
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: Received from the publisher for review as part of HFVBT tour
“Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it's more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.
Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.
In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life—a superb treat for those who love British novels.”
This novel is pitched as being appealing to those who love the TV show, Downton Abbey – I am sure I am the only person at this point who has never seen an episode of the show, so I can’t say anything to that factor. I can say, however, that it does speak to the fan of novels which feature the upstairs/downstairs motif – as it uses that technique extensively here.
I have been a long-time fan of contemporary mystery novels – James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series is one of my favorites – but for some reason, historical mysteries don’t tend to sit well with me. This is typically because the often leave the historical factor as mere background or setting and not fully integrate it into the novel. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman does quite well in the historical aspect – the pages just ooze the Edwardian time period – in terms of characterizations, events that are unfolding in the background, and the atmosphere of the time. Arlen also has the mystery element well in hand, as I never saw the murderer coming, although after the reveal you can see some hints along the way.
This was certainly a very different sort of upstairs/downstairs novel – as usually you don’t have a lot of lengthy interactions between the mistress of the house and her servants. In this novel, Lady Montfort teams up with her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to solve the murder mystery that takes place on her property. I really enjoyed this character dynamic. It made it interesting to see how they dealt with these breeches of etiquette and you have two different perspectives on the events transpiring.
I had an issue with two areas of this novel: pacing and caring about the deceased. I found the pace of the novel to be a little slow to unravel. It felt like a lot of waiting around in the household while a “real” investigator did his questioning of the household. We don’t see much of Teddy before he meets his maker and we learn most about him from discussions with various others. We are supposed to find him reviling – and I only halfway got there. I found that I didn’t really care that he had been killed, and because of that, I didn’t really care who had murdered him – this takes away from the mystery element to some extent.
I think that it could be an interesting series to have the interplay of Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson, but I think it might be difficult (or somewhat unbelievable) to think that they will encounter all that many mysteries that occur within their limited domestic sphere.
If you love to read about the Edwardian time period or an upstairs/downstairs novel, you will likely enjoy this one – all of those elements are well fleshed out. If you are a mystery fan, it might be hit or miss.
Isn't the cover absolutely stunning!?!
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