The arrival of an aggressive Scotland Yard investigator with no respect for his betters throws the household into even more disarray. Because the Montforts’ heir, Harry, was seen having a vicious argument with Teddy, he appears guilty at first. However, his mother, Clementine, believes in his innocence and enlists Mrs Jackson to keep her ears to the ground.
Among the houseguests are a dizzying bevy of socialites, introduced for the most part all at once. The characters have the advantage here, since they know who’s who better than readers will, but over the course of the novel, their distinctive personalities sort themselves out.
The shifting rapport between the central pair of allies – an unconventional yet privileged noblewoman and an upper servant whose brusque efficiency and “hierarchical cast of mind” belie her relative youth – is one of the novel’s high points. Arlen has a firm grasp on period mindsets and, as expected of any novel set in England in 1913, she inserts relevant details on the changes sweeping the country, such as women’s suffrage – a movement many female characters resist.
The lovely descriptions of the rolling green countryside around Iyntwood place us right into that glorious setting. Through its master’s thoughtful reflections on his “still-feudal way of life” while on a morning’s ride around his estates, we also get a solid sense of his family’s long-entrenched relationship with the land and his protectiveness toward his servants – even though, he admits, he “wasn’t terribly sure what Violet looked like.” The book is full of these small but telling details.
In this not-quite cozy mystery, the resolution to the crime unfolds in a logical manner. Sufficient clues are planted to let readers guess the culprit a bit early. Since they make an impressive and successful team, I hope Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson will join their wits again in future volumes – in particular, it should be interesting to see how much the characters relax their social attitudes as World War I gets underway.
Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman will be published by Minotaur/St. Martin's Press tomorrow in hardcover ($25.99, 320pp). This post is among the first out of the gate for the blog tour hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Thanks to the publisher for approving my NetGalley copy.