Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld (A Miss Morton Mystery)
In her most recent book, Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld, author Catherine Lloyd sets the stage for a fast paced, well-written walk through London’s high society in 1838.
Protagonist Caroline Morton, once a social highbrow, finds herself wrestling with the aftermath of her father’s fall from social standing and suicide. Caroline is forced to take on a job as a working lady’s companion for Mrs. Frogerton.
Mrs. Frogerton is herself a widow with a young daughter Dorothy (Dotty), preparing for her coming out Season; Mrs. Frogerton successfully runs her dead husband’s business—not something that most socially acceptable woman do in early 19th century.
Caroline and Mrs. Frogerton are close, and between them they work to find Dotty an acceptable husband. Unexpected, Dr. Harris appears on their doorstep. An acquaintance of both ladies, he announces that he has taken a position at the local hospital. The ladies are pleased for him, but not so much Dotty. She feels he is too common to be accepted in their home and asks him to leave before a husband-candidate arrives.
Within moments of his departure Mrs. DeBloom, her son Philip, and daughter, Clarissa, arrive. But as the Season begins, other events capture their attention.
Mrs. Frogerton invites Caroline to attend a séance held by Madam Lavinia, with a goal to reach into the other world and talk to her husband. Several other persons also attend the séance including Professor Brown, an associate of Dr. Harris who is studying the séance; Lady Fielding with questions about her husband’s untimely death; and a well-disguised woman. But the event takes a drastic turn when Alfred Fielding barges in, demanding that his mother, Lady Fielding, leave immediately. He threatens Madam Lavinia and the séance ends in disaster, but not before Madam Lavinia makes a curious remark to Caroline.
When Caroline wants to learn more about Madam, she and Dr. Harris return to the medium’s home with questions only to find Madam Lavinia dead. A mysterious note is found on the medium’s desk, addressed to Caroline, and another addressed to Dr. Harris. Both notes are taken before the police are called in.
It does not take long before the woman’s death is determined to be murder due to poisoning, not an accident. It takes even less time for the police to begin to suspect the good doctor.
In spite of Caroline’s defense, the police are convinced. Mrs. Frogerton, upon hearing Caroline’s story, agrees that the doctor is not guilty, and she brings her solicitor into the fray. The doctor is released from custody, much to the chagrin of the police.
Both women begin their own search into Lavinia’s death and the mysterious note to Caroline. The suspects begin to pile up. Who could have poisoned the medium’s water? The butler, Mr. Murphy? What could be his motive?; and Letty, the housemaid, but she is losing her job.
Caroline and Mrs. Frogerton both believe Alfred Fielding has the best motive after his violent threats against Madam, but Alfred has disappeared before the police can find him. And Mrs. Fielding? Is there something in her past that makes her a suspect? What about the strange, disguised woman whose identity is unknown? And of course, there is still Dr. Harris.
Lloyd has prepared a strong story with good characters and a logical approach to investigation on the part of Caroline and Mrs. Frogerton. The story is well-paced and there are no side stories. Well, there is the search for a socially acceptable husband for Dotty, but credit to Lloyd for cleverly tying the Season search in with the murder investigation.
It is apparent that Mr. Philip DeBloom is taken with Caroline, although she does not reciprocate his attention. He does, however, ask for her help when it is revealed that Clarissa was the disguised lady at the séance.
The plot becomes further complicated when a walk through the park with Philip, Caroline, Dotty, and Clarissa ends in an attempt on Clarissa’s life. Although she is saved, it appears that the doctor was seen in the vicinity of the event.
When Mrs. Frogerton and Caroline question the detective as to the whereabouts of Alfred Fielding, they learn that his body was discovered in the Thames with his throat slit. Mrs. Fielding attempts to defend Alfred by claiming that she murdered Madam, but no one believes her story.
By this time, the reader is well ensconced into the plot and the story is moving at a fast pace. Lloyd does an admirable job of tying up all of the clues, red herrings, and foreshadowing and although the reader will be certain to know who the guilty party is, they might be proven wrong . . . or not.
Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld is the second in the Miss Morton series. Her fan base will build from here and more stories are certainly in preparation.