A Most Agreeable Murder: A Novel

A Most Agreeable Murder: A Novel

by Julia Seales
A Most Agreeable Murder: A Novel

A Most Agreeable Murder: A Novel

by Julia Seales

Hardcover

$27.00 
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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • “A delightful cocktail that mixes elements of the Bridgerton series, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries . . . The payoff is a wealth of wit, hilarity and suspense.”—People (Book of the Week)

When a wealthy bachelor drops dead at a ball, a young lady takes on the decidedly improper role of detective in this action-packed debut comedy of manners and murder.


A PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

Feisty, passionate Beatrice Steele has never fit the definition of a true lady, according to the strict code of conduct that reigns in Swampshire, her small English township: She is terrible at needlework, has absolutely no musical ability, and her artwork is so bad it frightens people. Nevertheless, she lives a perfectly agreeable life. But she harbors a dark secret: She is obsessed with true crime. If anyone in her etiquette-obsessed community found out, she’d be deemed a morbid creep and banished from respectable society forever.

For her family’s sake, she’s vowed to put her obsession behind her. Eligible bachelor Edmund Croaksworth is set to attend the approaching autumnal ball, and the Steele family hopes that younger daughter Louisa will steal his heart. So Beatrice must be on her best behavior—a difficult challenge when a disgraced yet alluring detective inexplicably shows up to the ball.

Beatrice is just holding things together when Croaksworth drops dead in the middle of a minuet. As a storm rages outside, the evening descends into a frenzy of panic, fear, and betrayal as it becomes clear that the guests are trapped with a killer. Contending with competitive card games, tricky tonics, and Swampshire’s infamous squelch holes, Beatrice must rise above decorum and decency to pursue justice and her own desires—before anyone else is murdered.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593449981
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/27/2023
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 20,409
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Julia Seales is a writer and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. She earned an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, and a BA in English from Vanderbilt University. She is a lifelong Anglophile with a passion for both murder mysteries and Jane Austen. Julia is originally from Kentucky, where she learned about manners (and bourbon).

Read an Excerpt

Introductions

In the English countryside there was a small township called Swampshire, comprised of several lovely mansions and one disgusting swamp. This was the home—one of the mansions, not the swamp—of Beatrice Steele. The swamp was inhabited by an overpopulation of luminescent frogs. The visual effect at night was arresting, though the incessant croaking deterred some who might have otherwise chosen to inhabit the charming village.

Beatrice Steele was plump, with a cheerful gap in her front teeth and a white streak in her black curls, gained during a particularly competitive round of whist. She had a passionate disposition and a lively wit, which endeared her to friends and family—most of the time. For Beatrice was curious by nature, and therefore noticed too much, felt too much, and wondered too much about life outside her village. Others considered this behavior an unnecessary to-­do, as Beatrice would surely settle down with one of the young men of Swampshire in a mansion that hadn’t been overtaken by frogs, start a family, and live happily from then on.

This was the expected path of a lady, for there were strict rules of decorum in Swampshire. Years ago, the town’s founding father, Baron Fitzwilliam Ashbrook, had fled the raucous city of London for the countryside in search of a place he could shape on principles of perfect etiquette. In a matter of mere months, he penned a pamphlet professing these principles: The Guide to Swampshire. Believing that women were particularly prone to temptation, he wrote the accompanying books The Lady’s Guide to Swampshire, Volumes I and II. He also wrote The Lady’s Guide to Swampshire (Travel Edition), lest a woman find herself in an indecorous situation while on the go. These books became the foundation of the Swampshire social scene.

Failure to adhere to these rules could tarnish a woman’s reputation beyond repair. According to The Lady’s Guide, a disgraced woman was forbidden to call upon friends, entertain suitors, or even remain close to her family, lest she corrupt them by association. No self-­respecting lady would speak to her, and no gentleman of honor would make her an offer of marriage. She could not even patronize local dress shops or ribbon stores.

Friendless, single, and dressed in last season’s garb, a fallen woman would therefore be forced to leave the village. Only a morally corrupt city would accept her, and once she made it to Paris, she would surely be robbed by a mime and left for dead. But she might not even get that far. Bedtime stories in Swampshire told of women who, while attempting to flee, were swallowed up by one of the region’s infamous “squelch holes,” never to be seen again. Therefore, women were reassured that commitment to etiquette was for their own good. Rule-­breakers could not be permitted to corrupt this safe, orderly, idyllic world.

But despite growing up with these values, despite these rules having been ingrained in her mind since childhood, Beatrice Steele harbored a dark secret: She was obsessed with murder. Not the act of committing it, but the act of solving it. She loved nothing more than to consider the intricacies of a suspect’s motivations, determine the killer, and then watch this killer be brought to justice.

Her particular fascination with crime began with a plan to peruse her father’s imported London paper. She intended to read the social column, “Who Is More Respectable Than Who,” but could not get past the grammatically incorrect title and instead turned her attention to a different article: “Gentleman Detective Sir Huxley (and Assistant) Takes the Case.” It did not befit a young lady to look at such things, but before she could stop herself, she had devoured it.

The article detailed the circumstances of the grisly murder of a man named Viscount Dudley DeBurbie. It told of his young beloved Verity Swan; his immense collection of jewels, which had gone missing; his suspicious butler; and the dashing detective who accepted the case—Sir Huxley. Huxley’s motto was Super omnia decorum: “Decorum above all.” He believed that solving cases would reinstate the social order, which was the most respectable thing one could do. Nothing was more important than propriety.

Beatrice was transfixed. She had never considered that a genteel person might solve crimes as a hobby. She herself found no satisfaction in the approved hobbies for young women outlined in The Lady’s Guide to Swampshire. She was terrible at needlework, had no musical ability, and was banned from drawing because her artwork was so bad that it frightened people. Conversely, she found the hunt for murderers captivating. It granted her a sense of fulfillment, a sense that she was making the world a better place by (vicariously) pursuing justice.

And perhaps deep down she reasoned that if she knew what evil lurked in the world, she might be prepared to face it.

Before long Beatrice was obsessively collecting papers, desperate for news on the hunt for the killer. Her family thought it strange that Beatrice, once so social, began to forgo their evening card game to lock herself upstairs. Beatrice, enthused by her newfound passion, dropped hints that she was in love. She knew this was the only way to pacify her mother and guarantee hours left alone for her to “swoon and fantasize”—or whatever it was women did in these situations. Her mother happily accepted this excuse.

In a way, Beatrice was in love. She was gripped by the potential motive for the murder, the clues indicating that the killer may have known the victim, the way every detail surrounding the case had potential significance. It also didn’t hurt that Sir Huxley was devastatingly handsome. In his newspaper etching he was strong-­jawed, with an asp-­topped cane and a pristine top hat. His assistant was a man named Inspector Vivek Drake, a man with a scarred face and eye patch. Drake’s newspaper etching was far less flattering; he was always pictured with a scowl. Therefore, Beatrice was not surprised when the unseemly Drake pointed the finger at the young lady, Verity Swan. Sir Huxley admirably defended her honor and innocence, ever the true gentleman.

Ultimately in the DeBurbie case, the butler was charged and Huxley hailed a hero. He fired his scowling assistant Drake and opened a luxurious office near the West End. Thereafter, the crime column transitioned into an account of Huxley’s day-­to-­day as a private investigator. Beatrice followed it with relish, imagining herself next to Huxley, peeking into alleys or discussing theories in his mahogany study. She underlined intriguing details with flowing lines and doodled “Huxley and Steele” in each article’s margins. She even attempted to stitch a cameo of the gentleman. Her lack of skill at needlework ensured her interest would remain undetected, as everyone thought she had embroidered a potato.

Unfortunately in Swampshire all of this made her—one shudders to even say—a morbid creep. There are many types of creeps, of course: the peeping Toms, the lurkers, those who dare to show up at a party twelve minutes earlier than an invitation states—but in Swampshire, creeps of the morbid variety were considered the most unsavory. If anyone found out about Beatrice’s secret obsession, she would be publicly disgraced and shunned. Politely, but completely.

Therefore she knew her hobby could not last. A gentleman might have been able to live in both worlds, but not a lady. Certainly not a lady in Swampshire. Eventually, Beatrice would have to grow up and become a respectable woman for the sake of herself and her family. This would likely occur next week, she always assured herself. Or, possibly, the week after.

But today, she found herself in the turret of Marsh House, the Steeles’ cramped but charming home, trying to fit in an examination of one more article before the evening’s ball. She was so absorbed that she barely noticed the muffled sounds of her father tying a bucket of water above a door frame somewhere downstairs.

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