A Newlywed's Guide to Fortune and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery)
“a very polite and well-mannered tale of greed and murder.”
When explorer Lord Wingate dies, he bequeaths his discoveries to the British Museum, along with as the journal of his expeditions. During the transfer of these treasures, the journal disappears.
Frances, former Countess Harleigh, and George Hazleton are now settling into newlywed life. The only problem arising so far is that George is too aware he’s marrying a woman wealthier than he, challenging his belief that a man should provide for his wife and not the other way around.
When George is hired by the museum to locate Lord Peter’s missing journal, can it be a coincidence that Lord Peter’s widow asks Frances to sponsor her niece, Kate, in her presentation to the queen?
Little do the newlyweds realized both being drawn into the same mystery.
Preparing for her visit to meet Kate, Frances find herself with an unexpected companion. Lady Esther, dame terrible of the nobility, invites herself along.
No one denies Lady Esther what she wants. “Her tongue was indisputably the sharpest instrument in all of England.”
Lady Esther’s reason becomes clear when they arrive at Lady Winstead’s home. They find Lady Winstead’s rather disagreeable stepchildren, and her niece, with the dear lady herself in a convalescent chair, lethargic and barely able to speak. Indeed, as they have tea, Lady Winstead collapses.
“. . . tea splashed to the floor, followed in the next instant by Lady Winstead who slipped boneless from her chair, making no attempt to break her fall.”
The family appears unworried; Lord Jonathan explains his stepmother is simply pining with grief for his deceased father. Lady Esther wishes to call a physician but instead Her Ladyship’s caregiver, Nurse Plum, declares her charge unharmed and whisks her away to her room.
Lady Esther refuses to accept that excuse and reveals to Frances her true purpose in tagging along that day. “I don’t for a moment believe she is dying of grief, though there is no denying she is deteriorating from something. I need to know if her stepchildren are causing that deterioration . . . Observe them and tell me if my concerns are justified.”
Reluctantly Frances agrees, since her investigations will fit in with her tutoring Kate for her royal presentation. Kate also has suspicions and doesn’t wish to leave her aunt alone, so coming back to the Winstead home will also give Frances a chance to “snoop.”
It doesn’t take long to prove Lady Winstead is being drugged. When Frances finds Lord Peter’s journal in a bureau drawer, Nurse Plum becomes the prime suspect in both the drugging and the journal’s theft. When the journal again disappears, that seems to prove her guilt.
Lady Winstead is also missing some jewelry, which her stepson swears she gifted to his wife though Her Ladyship denies that. Nor did she replace the original with paste copies.
When Nurse Plum is killed with a deadly laudanum injection, Frances and George turn to their second set of suspects: the stepchildren.
With some discreet inquiries and Lady Esther’s assistance—because no on refuses Her Ladyship—they discover Lord Peter spent his entire fortune on his expeditions. Lady Winstead’s former husband legally tied up his money so her new husband couldn’t claim it. Her stepson has been using her money to pay for upkeep of their home, but his stepmother holds the mortgage on the manor, and once she dies, they will not only be penniless but also homeless.
More surprises and suspects are uncovered as Frances’ niece Kate is leading a double life Society definitely won’t accept. There’s a maid who’s always lurking and listening at keyholes. Even Lady Winstead is hiding some secrets. Is it any wonder George is anxious to get Frances safely back home before more bodies join Nurse Plum’s?
This is a lovely—if that’s the proper word for a murder story—Victorian mystery. Pointing out various social conventions of the era, such as the constraints placed on a woman, as far as inheriting and keeping control of her own finances, George’s upset over the problem of the money given by Frances’ father, and the fact that Lady Winstead’s first husband had the foresight to legally tie up her inheritance so no one could claim it, play off as subplots to each other.
Though the story contains a death by poisoning and a second attempted murder, it’s by no means violent. In fact, it’s a very polite and well-mannered tale of greed and murder. The reader may even experience a sense of participating in the game Clue whenever Nurse Plum is mentioned.
A Newlywed’s Guide to Fortune and Murder is another clever entry in the Countess of Harleigh series. A tale fans and new readers alike will enjoy.