A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder

by Dianne Freeman

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Overview

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

In this exciting historical mystery debut set in Victorian England, a wealthy young widow encounters the pleasures—and scandalous pitfalls—of a London social season . . .
 
Frances Wynn, the American-born Countess of Harleigh, enjoys more freedom as a widow than she did as a wife. With her young daughter in tow, Frances rents a home in Belgravia and prepares to welcome her sister, Lily, arriving from New York—for her first London season.
 
But no sooner has Frances begun her new life than the Metropolitan police receive an anonymous letter implicating Frances in her husband’s death. Frances assures Inspector Delaney of her innocence, but she’s also keen to keep him from learning the scandalous circumstances of Reggie’s demise. As fate would have it, her dashing new neighbor, George Hazelton, is one of only two other people aware of the full story.
 
While busy with social engagements on Lily’s behalf, and worrying if Reggie really was murdered, Frances rallies her wits, a circle of gossips, and the ever-chivalrous Mr. Hazelton to uncover the truth. A killer is in their midst and Frances must unmask the villain before Lily’s season—and their lives—come to a most unseemly end . . .
 
“This lighthearted debut tale of mystery, love, and a delightful sleuth will leave you wanting more—which is presumably just what Freeman had in mind.”
 —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496716873
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 06/26/2018
Series: A Countess of Harleigh Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 179,269
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Dianne Freeman is a life-long book lover who left the world of corporate finance to pursue her passion for writing, and the endless summer. She and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona where you can find her indulging in a good read, or hard at work on the next Countess of Harleigh mystery. Readers can visit her website at: www.difreeman.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

April 1899

Black — no. Black — no. Black crepe? Oh, heavens no! I bundled the offending gowns and dropped them on a bench for my maid to dispose of, then glanced around my dressing room. One word described it — mourning. In my wildest imaginings, I never would have dreamed I'd find myself a widow at the age of twenty-seven. Though for me, the difference from marriage was barely discernible.

While I'll confess to a foolish infatuation, Reggie and I hadn't married for love. My mother instigated the match when she brought me from New York to London. I suppose love had something to do with it. Reggie loved my money, and my mother adored his title. When we married, I became Countess of Harleigh. My family gained the consequence of that title. The Wynn family gained me, Frances Price, commoner. Oh, and a little over a million U.S. dollars.

True aristocrats that they were, to this day the Wynns acted as though they'd been swindled.

I'd endured a whole year of mourning with them. Miserable, yes, but at first I had no desire to show my face in public. While only two people besides myself knew the circumstances of my husband's death, I'm sure many more had their suspicions. You see, my husband died just over a year ago — in his lover's bed.

At a house party.

At our home.

Delightful man.

I eyed the gown I'd be wearing tonight, a rich royal blue. Ah, color in my life again. Mourning period over.

With a warning knock, Bridget, my maid, slipped into the room. "Are you ready to change for dinner, my lady?" Her eyes brightened with excitement when she saw the gown on the bed. "Are you wearing the blue?"

I smiled. "My first strike for independence."

"Well, I'm all for that." She turned me around and began unfastening my dress. Under her skillful hands, I was in the blue gown in a matter of minutes — a good thing as evening had brought the inevitable chill to the room. Bridget handed me a shawl for my rather bare shoulders and ushered me to the dressing table to do my hair.

"I don't remember seeing that picture before," she said, removing hairpins and shaping curls.

"I've been gathering things for packing." I picked up the photograph from the dressing table. "We sat for this one a long time ago. Must have been seven years as Rose was just a baby." I smiled down at the familiar faces. A family portrait, including Reggie's parents. I did have some pleasant memories of this family, and I'd tried my best to be a credit to them. I wasn't such a bad bargain. Reasonably attractive, I had my father's height and dark hair, coupled with my mother's blue eyes and fair complexion. No overly prominent chin, nose, or teeth. And I certainly knew how to act like a countess. My mother had been grooming me for this since my tenth year. Why, I'd even added a child to the family. Yes, Rose was a daughter, but I'd have been happy to try for an heir if Reggie had cared enough.

But pleasant memories aside, day-to-day life with this family had become intolerable. It was time to move on.

"Will that do, my lady?"

I placed the photograph back on the table and took a quick glance at the mirror. Then a much longer look. "Goodness, that's quite a sculpture you've created."

Bridget pursed her lips. "You're wearing a fashionable gown and you need a fashionable hairstyle to match." She gave me a firm nod that told me I'd better not argue.

"It's just so — tall."

"The extra height will give you courage."

That clinched it. "Thank you, Bridget. It's perfect." I glanced at the clock on the dressing table. "It's too early for me to go down, but you should go to your dinner. I'll just stay up here and gather some more belongings."

With a curtsy, she left. I let my gaze travel over the room. What should I take with me when I move out? And what would my in-laws insist belonged to the manor? Considering I'd been dreaming of this move for almost a year, I'd done little actual planning. In the back of my mind, I feared living on my own might be just beyond my financial reach and I'd have to give up the idea as a foolish dream. Bridget alone knew of my plans as she'd traveled with me to London last week under the vague guise of business. In my three-day trip I'd met with my solicitor, who scheduled appointments with an estate agent, who showed me five homes — four of which were definitely out of my reach.

But one was perfect. And in that moment I realized I could actually do this, assuming I could get past my in-laws' objections. I'd sworn Bridget to secrecy but wouldn't be at all surprised if several of the servants already knew, so Graham and Delia would have to be told before someone let it slip.

I blinked a few times. Heavens, it was dark in here. Stepping over to the bedside table, I turned up the wick on the paraffin lamp. Better. Between the lamp and the fire in the grate, the room now had a warm glow.

Hmm. Obviously my personal things would come with me, clothing and jewelry. I scanned the dressing table — silver-backed brush, comb and mirror, crystal bottles and atomizers. Their ownership was indisputable. I turned around and gazed at the large four-poster bed, and its beautiful carved rosewood head- and footboards. I'd miss it, but trying to lay claim to this bed — which I'd paid for — would cause far more trouble than it was worth. I ran my hand across the smooth silk coverlet. That was coming with me.

The sound of voices interrupted my inventory. Someone was speaking in my brother-in-law's study, located directly below my room, and the volume was increasing. I stood still as I waited — listening to the muffled words — for the sound of my name. There it was. Of course they were talking about me. They were always talking about me.

I moved to the other side of the bed and drew back the corner of the ancient Aubusson carpet along the wall, revealing a six-inch hole in the floor. This hole led to a corresponding one in the wall of Graham's study, complete with metal tubing. The holes were left from an attempt at installing gas lines to the family rooms of the house, aborted when the workmen learned Graham would be paying them late. If ever. As a result, the house retained its chill, but the holes made for an excellent listening device. Graham had hung a picture of his sons over that hole, but it made little difference to the quality of the sound.

It was quite an accomplishment to lower myself to my knees in the narrow skirt of my gown. Yes, I know, a lady has no business eavesdropping on the conversations of others, but I looked on this as a method of self-defense. Over the last year, Graham and Delia, my brother-in-law and his wife, had hatched an endless number of schemes, which always involved the use of my funds. So when they spoke about me, I listened. Forewarned is forearmed. I leaned closer to the hole, wrinkling my nose against the musty air in the tube.

"The balconies on the north wall are crumbling, Graham." That was Delia's voice. "We can't have guests here until they're replaced."

Graham muttered something about mourning and I pictured Delia rolling her eyes.

"Honestly, Graham, do you never consult the calendar? Our mourning period is well past. Now if we don't get workmen out here soon, we won't have the balconies repaired by summer."

A chair squeaked, and I assumed Graham had finally put down whatever he'd been working on to attend to his wife. "My dear, we cannot afford repairs. We can't even afford guests. Not now. Not this summer. You must be patient."

"I will not. If you're saying we have to wait for your investments to pay off, the manor will fall to rack of fruit by then."

I raised my head from the floor and mouthed her words. Rack of fruit. That couldn't be right. Delia must have walked away as she spoke. Well, I never said this device worked perfectly. I tried to puzzle out what she might have said while massaging a sore spot in my neck. Sometimes I wondered if listening to them was worth my aches and pains. Wait! The house would fall to wrack and ruin. That must be it. I huffed. As if it weren't already well on its way.

I placed my ear back on the floor and tried to catch up with the conversation. "She has the money, Graham." That would be me to whom Delia referred. "And should she ever run out, all she need do is ask her father for more."

"Yes, but I already plan to request some funds. It wouldn't do for us both to ask."

Heavens, they spoke as if I were a bank. Graham went on to explain some agricultural innovation he wanted to test on the home farm. Poor Delia. All she ever wanted was to be the grand lady, but fate thwarted her at every turn. First, she wasn't wealthy enough to marry the oldest son and was pawned off on the second. Then, when she finally became a countess, the old manor was falling apart and the coffers were nearly empty.

"Surely I can ask for a little money for the house. How else can we make the repairs?"

"You know my solution to that." Graham spoke so softly, I could barely hear him. Unfortunate, as I was truly curious to hear how he planned to ease their financial woes.

"Don't say it." Delia replied in a sharp tone, as if poking him with each syllable. "You know how I feel about your solution."

Oh, my. If Delia didn't like Graham's plan, it must involve some restriction on her spending while he continued to sink money into the estate.

I heard a door creak, followed by footsteps, then a swish of skirts near the bed.

Heavens, it was my door! I jerked my head up and tried scrambling to my feet. Instead I fell to my side in something of a sprawl on the floor. Jenny, one of the housemaids, dropped the linens she'd brought to my room and scurried over to assist me.

"Sorry to disturb you, my lady," she said, offering her arm so I could pull myself up. "I saw Bridget downstairs and thought you'd already gone to dinner."

How humiliating. With my ear to the floor and my posterior in the air, I must have looked like a worm inching across the room when she'd walked in. I stood and tried to compose myself — and some sort of explanation. When I looked at Jenny, her gaze was on the hole in the floor. Oh, dear. No chance of explaining that away. The maid was young, cheerful, and something of a chatterbox. How would I keep her from talking about this?

"Jenny, you may have heard some whispers below-stairs about my moving to town. Would you be interested in coming with me? I can promise you a good wage."

Her eyes widened as she bobbed her head.

"Excellent." I gave her a smile as I assessed her qualifications. I could do worse. "Why don't you roll that rug back into place and we'll talk tomorrow. Until then, don't breathe a word about my move."

As she bent to her task, the dinner gong sounded. I smoothed my skirt and stepped over to the dressing table to see if I'd mussed my hair. I took a deep breath. This move would come as something of a surprise for my in-laws and I anticipated resistance. No cozy family dinner for us.

* * *

Delia noticed my gown immediately. She gave me a nod of approval as I entered the drawing room where the family traditionally gathered before dinner. "Frances, what a lovely new gown. It's good to see you out of mourning. Isn't it, Graham?"

I took a quick glance over her head at my brother-in-law, busily pouring drinks, determined to ignore his wife's hints. Not only was the family's mourning period over, but I was spending money on myself.

With a blink, I looked back down at Delia. She was an inch or two shorter than I, which always took me by surprise, as her thin-as-a-whip frame gave her the appearance of height. In the same way, her heart-shaped face, blond curls, and ready smile camouflaged the backbone of a warrior. She intimidated our tenants and the local villagers, but she also stood as my ally back when I first came to this family and tried to make a place for myself. I quite liked her, despite the conversation I'd overheard, and her unwavering attachment to both my money, and this white elephant of a house. She was just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

"I'm glad you approve." I gave her hand a squeeze and waited for Graham to join us.

The drawing room boasted gas lighting, but was still rather dim. The dark, heavy furnishings and carpets, well into their dotage, only added to the gloom. After a significant battle, I'd been permitted to change the draperies. Lighter, they allowed sunlight in during the day, but as soon as evening set in, the room turned dismal.

Graham stepped up and handed me a glass of sherry. As I turned, I noted a section of scaffolding outside the window, and wondered if Delia had already hired the workmen for the balconies. Poor Graham.

Shaking off that concern, I smiled at my in-laws. "I feared it might shock you both that I cast off my mourning, but it has been over a year. I thought it time, so I had a few things made up while in London last week."

"A few things," Delia echoed, giving her husband a significant look. I took a sideways glance at him myself. His bland face showed no reaction. There was nothing unattractive about him, but Reggie definitely had the looks in the family. Graham was a toned-down version of his brother, hair more sandy than blond, average height, average build. On the asset side of the ledger, though, he was far more responsible than Reggie, and seemed truly to care about his wife. I gave him high marks for that.

We didn't bother seating ourselves, but rather stood near the doorway making small talk, as the second gong would sound shortly, disrupting any relevant conversation. When it did, we processed into the dining room like well-trained hounds, responding to the sound of the horn.

"I suppose you noticed we're preparing for another round of construction," Delia said, as a footman seated her at one end of the massive table. He then scurried around to the center, where I stood at my chair, waiting for him to perform the same service for me.

"Scaffolding does tend to herald construction." I spoke in a strident tone in order to be heard at either end of the table, then waited a beat as my words echoed off the high coffered ceiling. How ridiculous to dine in such formality when it was only the three of us. The nine-foot mahogany table, candle-lit, and laden with floral arrangements, was lovely, but who on earth were we impressing? "Is it to be a large project?"

Delia placed a hand to her chest, releasing a false sigh of regret. "They are always larger than we expect, but an honorable old structure such as this demands a great deal of maintenance."

"Over two centuries old, you know," Graham added from his end of the table.

I was well aware of the age of the house, and intimately familiar with the amount of maintenance it required. I smiled in acknowledgment. The footman served the soup course so we left off conversation for a moment. The only sound was the tapping of his heels on the marble floor as he rounded the table with his tray.

"Well," Delia continued, through sips of consommé, "Graham and I wish to restore the manor to its original splendor."

"At some point in time, my dear." Graham scowled at his wife. "Right now the home farm requires an infusion of cash." He turned to me. "As the dowager countess, I'm sure you'd agree. After all you are still a member of this distinguished family."

I forced myself not to cringe at the epitaph. Dowager countess indeed! Another bit of misery Reggie had left me to endure.

Once I got past the denigrating title, I realized they were still fighting over my money. As the only member of the family who had any, of course the useless dowager countess would pay for everything. Of all the devious tricks! My gaze drifted over to the sideboard where Crabbe, the butler, decanted wine for the next course. The footman stood nearby, waiting to clear the soup course. It would be unseemly to discuss finances in front of them, but if I ignored these hints, they would assume my consent. I'd intended to wait until after the servants had withdrawn before giving them my news, but now they left me with no option.

"There is nothing dearer to my heart than assisting the family, but I'm afraid my funds are committed elsewhere."

Delia's ingratiating smile faded. "Whatever do you mean, dear?"

I'd been bursting to tell them for a week now, and foiling their little trick made it all the more thrilling. "Well, I have some rather exciting news." I paused, glancing from Delia to Graham and back. "When I was in London last week, I leased a house."

Delia's jaw sagged, and I heard Graham choke at his end of the table. When I turned toward him, he was mopping his mouth with a napkin. Clearly breathing, so all was well. "Do you mean you're leasing a house for the Season?"

"No, indeed. I bought the leasehold. There are eighty years left on the lease, so it required a significant down payment, but my solicitor negotiated splendidly, and, well, it's mine." I nearly sang out the words.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Dianne Freeman.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
BRC16 14 days ago
Absolutely witty and entertaining through and through. Dianne Freeman’s writing is crisp and truly evokes the era. Her characters each feel vivid and familiar as if you are are settling back into hearing about an old friend’s life. I found the mystery to be both intriguing and on-point for the genre as it gave some fresh twists. I’m really looking forward to the next book, which I think will be even better!! George and Frances are the best ❤️
nhr3bookcrazyNR 19 days ago
Great start to a new series! Loved everything about this book. Couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Now I'm waiting for the next book. Please bring it on SOON.
Anonymous 25 days ago
Good protagonist. I enjoyed the independent frame of mind and the thoughtfulness of the main character.
DanieleK 4 months ago
A LADY’S GUIDE TO ETIQUETTE AND MERDER is fantastic and will definitely go on my list of best reads of the year. Readers are introduced to Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, who, at age twenty-seven, has become a widow. Finally finished with her required one year of mourning, she cannot wait to move to her own home with her daughter Rose and leave the moldering family estate and brother and sister-in-law behind. There is not much time to get settled since Frances’s younger sister Lilly and Aunt Hetty arrive just in time for the Season to begin. Frances’s mother hopes that Frances will find a suitable husband for Lilly. However, things get off to a rocky start when brother-in-law Graham sues her, claiming her money should be Harleigh money, the police receive a letter questioning Frances’s husband’s cause of death, and her next door neighbor happens to be one of two people who know a scandalous secret. There have been a rash of thefts, and when Frances’s questions about a potential suitor lead to murder, Frances finds herself looking for answers. I tend to like books set in the Victorian era so A LADY’S GUIDE fit the bill. I absolutely adore Frances. She is strong and independent yet no too terribly uncharacteristic for London in 1899. All of the characters are well drawn, and I particularly enjoy Aunt Hetty and neighbor George, whom I have no doubt is much more than he seems. The well paced mystery begins with the theft of some trinkets and jewelry, which is compelling on its own, but when the murder occurs, the pace picks up and the excitement level rises. I relished unearthing clues and figuring out the puzzle alongside Frances. The guilty party came as somewhat of a surprise. A LADY’S GUIDE TO ETIQUETTE AND MURDER is an entertaining, delightful historical cozy mystery. Highly recommended. I received an ARC of this title from the publisher through NetGalley and voluntarily shared my thoughts here.
KrisAnderson_TAR 5 months ago
A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman is the first edition in A Countess at Harleigh Mystery series. Frances Price Wynn, a widow, has just finished her year of mourning and is ready to embrace color once again. Frances is also ready to leave her money hungry in-laws behind and move to London. She has leased a place in Belgravia and is surprised to discover her new neighbor is George Hazelton. Only one of three people who know the truth of what happened the night her husband died. Frances has barely moved in when she receives a letter from her mother announcing she is sending Frances’ sister, Lily along with her Aunt Hetty to London. She wants Frances to usher Lily into London society and help find her a suitable husband. Luckily, she has included a generous check to help with the expenses. Her in-laws did not take her departure well and have filed a lawsuit. While her lawyer assures her that the case does not have merit, her account has been frozen until the case is settled by the courts. Frances is surprised when an Inspector Delaney pays her a visit. Evidently the police received an anonymous letter regarding Reggie’s demise and it points the finger at Frances. Lily gains several admirers at her first social event leaving Frances to figure out which one is suitable and who is just after Lily’s dowry. Frances learns that there is a thief attacking the homes of the wealthy and when a stolen item finds its way into her reticule, she sets out to discover the thief’s identity. Frances is in for a busy social season in A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder is a light, historical cozy mystery. The story begins in April of 1899 at Harleigh Manor. There is a similarity to Downton Abbey with the big estates, London society, and Frances is from a wealthy American family who married a titled British aristocrat. Frances is an interesting character. This is the first time she is on her own without her domineering mother or her husband. She comes across as a typical lady of that time-period. I would have preferred her to be a little more out of the box. Lily, on the other hand, is outspoken, headstrong, smart but naïve in the way of men (and the rules of British society). Aunt Hetty provides levity to the story. There is quite a bit going on in the story (as you can see from my summary). Despite the number of storylines, there is a lack of action. More time is spent drinking tea and discussing the various issues. I could have done with less speculation and repetition. The beginning of the book did engage my attention, but it began to wane after a while as the pace slows down. Dianne Freeman is an overly descriptive writer. Frances’ daily life is described in detail. The mysteries lacked development. It was not a challenge to identify the guilty parties especially for the burglaries. I liked that the author did not push the romance between George and Frances. The attraction is there between them, but Frances is not ready for a new romance. My rating for A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder is 3 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy light-hearted, historical cozy mysteries, then pick up the debut novel in A Countess of Harleigh Mystery series A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder.
KriisGaia 7 months ago
A year after losing a husband etiquette states you leave off your mourning. In A Lady’s Guide To Etiquette And Murder, Frances Wynn is more than ready to put aside her mourning. It is bad enough that she is only 27, but the fact that her husband had died in the bed of his mistress made moving on just that little easier. Finally, she is able to escape the money pit which is the family estate and look forward to taking up residence in her new London townhouse. One bright light on her horizon is a visit from her sister Lily. She has been sent from America by their parents so Frances can bring her out in London. A whirlwind of engagements and shopping ensues. But with the new beginning, and her sister’s social whorl comes unexpected complications. Someone has sent an anonymous letter accusing Frances of murdering her husband. While she did not kill her husband, she certainly doesn’t want the police to find out about the real circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. With that, someone is burglarizing exclusive London parties and the burglar just may be one of her sister’s suitors. Exciting, Different, And Fun This is not your typical mystery nor your typical Victorian romance. I really like how it is a complete departure from what you would expect. The main character is reluctant in the extreme to have to investigate the mysteries going on around her. This is not typical for your average mystery novel. Frances is a very resourceful woman, determined to make her own way after a disastrous marriage. She’s an interesting character and I think there is definitely more to see here. Throughout the book, Frances struggles to figure out how she will make ends meet now that her father‘s investments have failed. Not having those resources to fall back on means she will need energy source of income. One suggestion is that she bring out other American debutantes for a London season. This, I think, will create an opportunity for plenty of interesting situations and I am looking forward to the series. Reviewed for LnkToMi iRead in response to a complimentary copy of the book provided by the publisher in hopes of an honest review.
ArizonaJo 7 months ago
A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman was an excellent start to what I hope will be a long running historical cozy mystery series. Ms. Freeman introduces us to the recently widowed Countess of Harleigh, Frances Wynn. She is a surprisingly strong young woman for Victorian times who has come into her own now that she is a widow and intends to enjoy her life with her daughter. The descriptive writing of London and the characters made me feel like I was there with Frances as she introduces her sister, Lily, into London society during her first season. She also begins her amateur sleuthing as there has been a rash of thefts at homes nearby, a man is found killed in her back garden, and there is an attempt on her life right on the streets of London. Suspense, subtle humor, only a few suspects, twists that had me confused and a startling reveal kept me turning the pages. I am already looking forward to the next one in the series. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.