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In the sobering yet hopeful years following the First World War, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, find their summer plans marred by an instance of murder . . .
Phoebe and her sister Julia are eager for a summer getaway at High Head Lodge, the newly purchased estate of their cousin Regina. But they are not the only houseguests. Regina's odd friend, Olive, is far from friendly, and Regina's mother and brother—bitter over the unequal distribution of her father's inheritance—have descended on the house to confront Regina.
In addition to the family tension, Eva is increasingly suspicious of Lady Julia's new maid—wondering why she left her former employer so suddenly. And why does Regina seem ill at ease around the maid, as if they were previously acquainted? But things go from tense to tragic when their hostess meets an untimely end—murdered in her bed with no signs of struggle. Now, with suspects in every room, Lady Phoebe and Eva must uncover secrets hidden behind closed doors—before a killer ensures they never leave High Head Lodge . . . alive.
“An unusual twist rooted in the recent horrors of World War I adds interest to a typical country-house mystery.”
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"Well, it certainly isn't Foxwood Hall."
Phoebe Renshaw regarded her elder sister, Julia, as she leaned to peer out the open window of their grandfather's Rolls-Royce. A gravel driveway snaked out before the motorcar, rising to meet the open forecourt of their destination, a Jacobean manor house whose gables and chimneys stood proud against an unblemished morning sky.
As Fulton, their chauffeur, negotiated a bend shaded by a sweet chestnut no longer in flower, Phoebe hunched lower in the seat to gaze out the windscreen. She admired the graceful lines of the twin bowed windows that spanned the ground and first floors on either side of an arched front doorway. "I'll grant you Foxwood Hall would dwarf it, but I think it's lovely. I do wonder, though, how Regina was able to afford the place."
"One imagines her father made generous arrangements for her in his will."
"Perhaps, but surely Hastings, as the heir, oversees her accounts. I have a difficult time imagining him allowing his sister this much financial freedom."
"Yes, well, what Regina wants, Regina usually manages to get." Julia sat back with a sigh. "Besides, you misunderstand me. The house could be a tent for all I care. I'm just so thrilled to be away from Foxwood — I cannot even tell you. No restrictions, no little brother to contend with. When does Fox go back to school?" Her eyebrows converged above her midnight-blue eyes. She had taken to darkening her brows from their natural blond, and they stood out boldly against her flawless skin.
"Fox returns to Eton in a couple of weeks." Phoebe looked forward to it. As much as she loved her fifteen-year-old brother, she found she didn't particularly like him these days. He'd developed a defiant streak that reminded her of ... well ... of Julia. "Perhaps if you hadn't disappeared without a word in London, Grams wouldn't have kept you at home these past several weeks."
Julia compressed her lips and skewed them to one side in a show of bitterness. "What choice did I have? But it wasn't so much my disappearing that vexed her, as my having turned down Arthur Radbourne." She breathed in heavily and let it out slowly. "Grams and her eligible bachelors. I don't care how many millions he's got. He has an underbite and he's flatulent."
Phoebe chuckled. "Oh, Julia."
"The underbite I could overlook, but the other? Thank you, no. I had no choice but to disappear for a few days so he'd finally take no for an answer."
"Still, you might have telephoned home to let them know where you were. Grams and Grampapa were worried. Where did you go, by the way? You've never told me."
"Never you mind; it's best you don't know." To Phoebe's disappointment, Julia's face became shuttered, indicating an end to the conversation. She gazed out at the edifice fast filling the motorcar's windscreen. "I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone — especially Cousin Regina — would want to buy a relic like this nowadays. It's positively medieval. Not to mention tucked away where nothing exciting ever happens." Before Phoebe could get a word in, Julia laughed. "The events of last spring and Christmas aside, of course."
Yes, those events could hardly be considered unexciting.
"I'm sure Regina wanted a place where she could quietly grieve for her father." Phoebe frowned. Regina's father, Basil Brockhurst, was her mother's cousin, making Regina and her brother, Hastings, second cousins to Phoebe and her siblings. Basil, Lord Mandeville, had expired of heart failure not quite a month ago, at the relatively young age of sixty. Regina must surely be wretched. Phoebe and Julia's own grandfather suffered ailments of the heart as well. Cousin Basil's passing, tragic in itself, had been a stark reminder of life's all too precarious nature. If anything happened to darling Grampapa ... First Mama, years ago when they were young, then Papa during the war ... Phoebe didn't think she could bear another loss any time soon.
"I can't think why she invited us." Julia assumed a bored expression. "It's not as though we're her dearest friends. One supposes she did so out of convenience, seeing how close Foxwood Hall is to here. Once she tires of us, she can send us packing readily enough."
"Really, Julia, must you always be so cynical? I'm sure Regina had no such thought." When Julia offered one of her cavalier shrugs, Phoebe shook her head and allowed herself a small smile. At least they weren't sniping at each other, as they had in the past.
These several years since Papa died had been contentious ones, with Phoebe often feeling as though she had to justify her very existence to her beautiful, accomplished elder sister. The worst of it was, she never could figure out why her sister seemed to abhor her so thoroughly. But last April brought events at which even Julia couldn't shrug; they'd very nearly lost their younger sister, Amelia, and that had brought about a miraculous mellowing of Julia's acerbic self-importance. Phoebe still wouldn't term their relationship a close one, but a cordial one, yes, and she counted that as a huge improvement and quite a relief.
The motorcar rolled to a stop in front of the manor's entrance, arched in the gothic fashion and framed in thick granite casing. A second motorcar carrying their two lady's maids and their luggage had turned onto the service driveway that took them around back to the servants' entrance.
Fulton opened the rear passenger door, but Phoebe hesitated before sliding out. "Anyway, we'll find out why Regina invited us soon enough. Here she is now."
The front door had opened and Regina Brockhurst stepped out wearing stunning pink-and-purple crepe de chine with gold metallic trim. The garment rippled with the breeze like the petals of an exotic flower while the gold shimmered warmly in the sun. Her abundant, inky black hair was swept up in an arrangement of loose curls framed by a silk headband, and an amethyst and marcasite necklace glittered just below the hollow of her neck.
"She certainly doesn't appear to be much in mourning, does she?" With a grin, Julia slid over and nudged Phoebe to exit the vehicle.
"Julia, Phoebe, darlings." Regina came toward them, all five feet, eleven inches of her sleek form swaying gracefully. A beringed hand reached out to them. "I'm so pleased you could come."
Phoebe returned the greeting and rose up on her toes to kiss her cousin's cheek. "Dearest Regina, I'm so very sorry about your father."
"Yes, thank you, Phoebe. Poor Father, expiring so suddenly that way." Her lips formed a little ball of a pout, before she smiled again and reached to embrace Julia. "Do, do come inside and make yourselves utterly at home. I've been simply dying for you to see my newest acquisition. It's charming, isn't it, though admittedly rather gloomy inside. But that shall be remedied soon enough. And it's all mine, free and clear. What do you think?"
Phoebe might have imagined it, or perhaps it was the sigh of the breeze, but she could have sworn Julia groaned behind her.
Eva Huntford, lady's maid to the Earl of Wroxly's two younger granddaughters, couldn't exit the motorcar fast enough for her liking. Though the trip had only been a few miles from home, the distance had been interminable thanks to Eva's fellow passenger. Initially, she had welcomed the hiring of a new lady's maid for the eldest Renshaw sibling, Julia, for it meant a lightening of Eva's own duties. Now she had only two ladies to look after instead of three, and with youngest sister Amelia away at school most of the year, Eva could focus the lion's share of her efforts on middle sister, Phoebe.
Of course, the addition to Foxwood Hall's staff hadn't been for Eva's benefit. After a quiet spring following some disturbing events at the nearby Haverleigh School for Young Ladies, the Countess of Wroxly had decided it was time to center her attentions on her eldest granddaughter. After all, Lady Wroxly had declared, Julia wasn't getting any younger. What she needed was a husband — a wealthy one — and that meant venturing into society on a more regular basis. Hence she needed a lady's maid of her own.
But this woman! As the motorcar carrying the two maids followed the drive to the servants' entrance at the side of the house, Myra Stanley craned her neck to gaze out the back window. "Do you see that," she said in a voice that rasped as if with heavy doses of smoke and whiskey. Her stockings — silk, if Eva wasn't mistaken — made a shushing sound as she crossed one leg over the other beneath her calf-length skirt. "Not a single servant lined up to greet our ladies. What kind of welcome is that when the lady of the house steps out alone?"
"Perhaps Miss Brockhurst hasn't had time to hire a full house staff," Eva suggested. Indeed, the farther they drove off the main drive, the more unkempt the greenery became. Box hedges needed a good straightening, while hydrangea and tangled roses reached beyond their beds. Obviously, Miss Brockhurst was in need of a gardener.
"Then she has no business entertaining guests, does she?" The woman's green eyes sparked and her thin lips pursed.
"She is a cousin of the Renshaws and needn't stand on ceremony. Besides, it's hardly our place to judge."
"Bah." A terse shake of her head sent a lock of brown hair slipping from beneath Myra Stanley's hat, a felt, bowler-type affair that sported a blue rosette along the band. She rubbed the tip of her decidedly hawkish nose and sniffed. "What is anything without ceremony? Without the proper dignity?"
Eva was spared having to answer when the motorcar jerked to a stop. They had entered a circular courtyard enclosed by a ragged excuse for tall laurel hedges. Double oaken doors appeared to lead into the basement level of the house. She stepped out onto the drive, curious as to why no one appeared to greet them, and went to the doors to knock, having to tread over fallen leaves and twigs in the process.
After several moments of no response she called out, "Hello, is anyone there? Hello?"
Their driver, one of the footmen from home, set their bags, along with those of Lady Julia and Lady Phoebe, on the pavement, tipped his hat, and bade them good day, leaving Eva and Miss Stanley very much alone in the abandoned courtyard. A warm breeze sifted through unruly holes in the hedge, and somewhere beyond Eva's vision, a bird warbled. She knocked again.
"This is ridiculous," Miss Stanley said behind her. "No one out front, no one manning the service entrance. What kind of place is this? I tell you, Lady Diana would never countenance such a slapdash running of a household."
"Then perhaps you should have stayed in Lady Diana's employ," Eva murmured. She couldn't help herself. Avoiding eye contact with Miss Stanley, she sidestepped to peer in through a window. A black-and-white-tiled hallway stretched away into shadow.
"What was that?" Miss Stanley's heels clicked as she sauntered closer. "What did you say?"
Eva moved away from the window and took several strides into the center of the driveway. She shielded her eyes from the midday sun and glanced up at the house. Abandonment seemed to define High Head Lodge, reminding her of when the Haverleigh School had been forced to close, the students sent home or farmed out to nearby families. A killer had prowled the halls and intruded on the most hallowed of the school's grounds. The dreadful memory sent a shiver through Eva despite the summer heat. A sudden step behind her sent her flinching out of Myra Stanley's reach.
Not that Miss Stanley had raised a hand to her. But the woman towered over her, glowering. "I heard very well what you said. As you know, Miss Huntford, it was through no fault of my own that I could not remain in Lady Diana's employ."
"Yes, yes. Honestly, what does it matter at the moment?" Eva dismissed Miss Stanley's pique with an impatient wave. An uneasy sensation that started at the base of her spine slithered up to her nape, a feeling that told her something wasn't right. It was an instinct born of necessity, and one she had learned to trust. Suddenly she longed to lay eyes on her young mistress, and Lady Julia as well, to reassure herself that High Head Lodge harbored no threats to their well-being.
"It matters to me," Myra Stanley persisted. "I will not have my reputation as a lady's maid maligned by you or anyone else, Miss Huntford. When Lady Diana married Mr. Cooper last month, she took on a new home with its own full staff. She was loath to let me go, I can tell you that."
Eva leveled a skeptical stare on Miss Stanley. She had never heard of a gentlewoman not taking her trusted lady's maid with her to a new home, fully staffed or not. No, there was more to the story of why Miss Stanley no longer worked for Lady Diana Manners Cooper, but at this precise moment Eva didn't give a fig about whatever secrets had sent Myra Stanley seeking new employment, or how she had bamboozled the Countess of Wroxly into taking her on without a proper inquiry into her background.
At present, Eva knew two things: She didn't care at all for Myra Stanley, and she needed to find entry into High Head Lodge.
As if someone read her thoughts, the service door opened with a rustle of the old leaves scattering on the walkway. A woman wearing a serviceable tweed suit in the military style that had become popular during the war beckoned to them. A mere slip of a woman, she reached Eva's chin at best and sported a slender physique and an almost girlish, elfin chin. Her eyes, however, held a steady confidence that spoke of someone well past her youth. "Come with me, please."
Past her youth, perhaps, but still far too young to be the housekeeper. And she was certainly not dressed as a maid, nor any other house staff Eva could think of. Even a lady's maid wouldn't wear brown tweed, nor would she sport anything approaching fashionable lines — even fashion two or three years behind the times — while on duty. Eva's gaze dropped to the woman's low-heeled boots, brown to match the suit, sturdy and sensible, but of fine leather and obviously new. Curious.
"High time you showed up to let us in." Miss Stanley's grating voice jarred Eva from her speculations, but daunted their mystery woman not in the least. Miss Stanley hefted her bag and held it out. "I am Lady Julia Renshaw's personal maid. Kindly call someone to carry the bags and escort us to our rooms. We have a lot of work to do settling our ladies in."
Eva winced. Even if this person were the scullery maid, she would not have taken that tone with her. This woman appeared unfazed. She merely chuckled and said, "Follow me." She turned about to lead the way.
"I beg your pardon." Miss Stanley hurried to catch up to her. "The bags, if you please."
"I'm afraid you'll have to carry them up yourselves. Or ask your mistresses to help you."
"What? Of all the impertinence. Do you know who the Renshaws are?"
Despite her own rising curiosity as to whom they were presently following into the house, Eva chuckled as well, content to observe how this would play out. She found herself hoping the woman was the housekeeper, for if so, Myra Stanley would find herself short of linens, hot water, and timely breakfasts for the duration of their stay. She hoisted Lady Phoebe's valises, one in each hand. With a great show of indignant reluctance, Miss Stanley did the same with Lady Julia's bags.
Without another word they were led past silent storerooms, larders, and work areas. A pervasive stillness weighted the atmosphere, almost oppressive and so unlike the bustling servants' domain at Foxwood Hall. Miss Brockhurst did indeed need to people her new estate with workers and maintenance staff.
Soon they came to the main kitchen where two women, one barely out of her teens and the other middle-aged, stood quietly working at the center table. They barely glanced up as Eva and the others strode past, but the elder said to them, "Breakfast is at six thirty sharp. Be here or you're welcome to make your own."
Despite the terse message, the voice was not an unamiable one, but of course that did not stop Miss Stanley harrumphing again. Finally, they climbed a narrow flight of stairs up three levels to a utilitarian corridor with numerous rooms opening onto either side. Their footsteps were loud on the wide-plank flooring. Panting to catch her breath, Eva peered into simply furnished bedrooms, some with two iron bedsteads, others with one. The rooms were spacious for servants' quarters, with large windows affording generous views of the surrounding treetops. What these quarters lacked, however, were any signs of habitation. There were no garments hanging on the wall pegs, no personal effects neatly arranged on the dresser tops, and not a single scuff mark on the buffed wooden floors. Miss Brockhurst appeared to be living in her newly acquired estate with merely a cook, a cook's assistant, and whatever role this woman happened to play.
Excerpted from "A Devious Death"
Copyright © 2017 Lisa Manuel.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As always, another great story from Ms. Maxwell. I always love her books - and this one did not disappoint. The third in the Lady and Lady's Maid mysteries moves right along and gets us caught up in the intrigue along with everyone in the book. I definitely look forward to the next book in this series.
It always amazes me how much research goes into a fictional story. I use to just read a book, enjoy the story and leave it at that. But now when I read a book, I not only enjoy the story but appreciate the hard work that the author put into the story to ensure that it captures the reader's attention. After all an author's goal is to tell an interesting story, one that will mesmerize the reader and if the author is lucky the story will stay with the reader even after the last word is read and the book is closed. And Alyssa Maxwell had mastered that !!! A Devious Death is the third book in her Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery series and with each book, I grow to love Lady Phoebe and her Lady's Maid Eva more and more !! There is so much to love with these stories....the relationships among the main characters Lady Phoebe, her Lady's Maid Eva, Miles who is the Constable always on the job, and Lady Phoebe's older sister Julia. Of course other people are always introduced in the books as with A Devious Death.....Lady Phoebe and Lady Julia go to their cousin Regina's new home to help her with ideas for redecorating the huge estate. Only to have the rest of Regina's family show up unannounced claiming that Regina owes them money because she was named the only heir to her father's estate. There ends up more questions than answers when Regina is found murdered and her "friend" Olive is the one to find her. Everyone is under suspicion, even Regina's mother and brother, and then when another person is murdered and a couple show up who aren't who they claim to be no one is safe....but no one can leave either.....per the Constable's orders. Every time I read an Alyssa Maxwell novel I end up reading a remarkable story as well as learning a thing or two..... There within again I must applaud Maxwell and all other authors for all the work that they put into a story just so that I, a reader, can get lost for a while.....
A Devious Death is the third book in the Lady And Lady’s Maid series. I love to step back in time to before cell phone, computers, and the medical advancements we now have. The Lady and Lady’s Maid series is one my of very favorites5 for just that. It’s August of 1919 and Lady Julia, her sister Lady Phoebe with their maids are on their way to visit Cousin Regina, who has recently inherited a large amount of money from her deceased father. Regina, who has purchased a manor house, wants Lady Julia to help her completely redecorate the interior. Also in residence, is Olive Asquith a friend of Regina’s. After conversing with Olive for a while, Lady Phoebe wonders whether her cousin embraces the socialistic sounding feelings of Olive. As everyone is returning from a day of shopping, Regina’s family arrives in a major huff. It seems that with Regina inheriting all money, the only thing that went to her mother, brother, sister-in-law and the family lawyer was the family home and have come to convince Regina to part with family’s fair share of the money. The next day a scream is heard and everyone exits their rooms to see Olive standing outside of Regina’s room. Inside the room is the lifeless body of Regina who just appears to be asleep. A brooch, belonging to Regina’s mother is found at the base of her skull. Constable Miles Brannock is sent to investigate the death and asks Lady Phoebe and her Lady’s Maid Eva to be his eyes and ears as they are more likely to uncover some useful clues, as they have in the past for him. It’s going to be a tough investigation as the whole family certainly had it in for Regina. The lawyer, Ralph Cameron needs to come under scrutiny, too. To start the investigation, Phoebe tells Brannock that she had seen Olive coming out of Regina’s room in the middle of the night that she was killed. Also, that she was awakened by a loud argument between Regina’s brother and his wife. In addition, there is a Russian couple, who speak little English, claim to had been hired to clean at the house, but when Brannock says he is going to arrest, they take off running. Once again, Ms. Maxwell provides the reader with a well-plotted and told story. The characters are all very interesting and believable. I do believe that Lady Julia character is more in line with how it was back in the period the book was set, but I also believe that interaction of Lady Phoebe and Eva also probably happened, just not the norm. I can wait for the next exciting book in the series to see what adventures Lady Phoebe and Eva will be involved in. Also anxious to see if there might be a romantic interest for Eva developing.