In its opening chapters, this mystery debut set in early 19th-century England reads like a promising Regency romance. Ruthless money-lender Mark Craddock has used ``dishonourable means'' to engineer the engagement of his daughter Maud to Sir Robert Fontclair's son Hugh. ``Howling swell'' Julian Kestrel has no plans for amateur sleuthing when he arrives at the Fontclair country home for the wedding, but the bride, aware that the groom is reluctant, asks Julian to help her foil Papa's scheme. Soon Julian uncovers a new problem tucked neatly into his own bed: a fully clothed young woman, dead of a stab wound, whom nobody in the household admits to recognizing. Sir Robert, a magistrate, seems content to pin the murder on Julian or his valet, Dipper, formerly a pickpocket, so Julian must find the real culprit. As soon as the corpse surfaces, this tale turns into a very decent whodunit. Julian is a dandy sleuth who manages to sort out both the murder and Maud's problem. However, Regency fans may be disappointed when social maneuverings are nudged aside by the crime investigation, while mystery lovers may resent having to wait several chapters for the first blood. Should Ross learn how to smoothly integrate these two genres in her next novel, she could earn a loyal audience. ( Mar. )
In 1820s London, Mark Craddock, formerly a stable hand for the ancient, respectable Fontclair family, blackmails Hugh Fontclair into asking for the hand of his only daughter. During a prenuptial house party at the Fontclair estate, gadabout dandy Julian Kestel discovers a murdered woman in his bed, then joins in the subsequent investigation. Likely suspects include Hugh's rakish cousin, evasive uncle, penniless poor relation, and so forth. Period atmosphere, polished dialog, ever-present class distinctions, and sprinklings of Regency romance make this a nice series opener with an unusual ``hero.''
British mystery fans: this one's for you. First-novelist Ross makes an enviable debut with a traditional crime yarn that has enough twists and turns to satisfy the most plot-hungry mystery readers. Moreover, Ross' amateur sleuth, a Regency dandy called Julian Kestrel, is a first-class charmer more than capable of carrying an ongoing mystery series. Set in an English manor house (naturally), the story introduces a cast of suspicious characters worthy of Christie (but with a bit more depth): there's the troubled young couple, unhappily engaged because the bride's father holds something over the groom's family; there's the vindictive aunt; there's the roguish cousin; and there are a host of others, all looking as guilty as Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum. The question is, Which one of them is responsible for the murder of an attractive young woman, whose corpse turns up in Kestrel's bed? It's up to our hero to find out, with the help, of course, of his wily manservant, the Dipper, who's sort of a cockney version of Jeeves. Ross has the formula down pat and measures out her ingredients flawlessly.
Cambridgeshire, 1824. London dandy Julian Kestrel finds himself invited as best man to the wedding of a virtual stranger, Hugh Fontclair, whose bride, Maud Craddock, has been forced on him by her parvenu father's undisclosed hold on the high-and-mighty Fontclairs. It's an explosive situation, even before Julian discovers an unknown dead woman decorously tucked into his bed at Bellegarde, the Fontclair country seatand his valet Dipper, a former cutpurse, accused of murder by the local magistrate, Sir Robert Fontclair. Who is the victim? How did she get into the house? What does her death have to do with the secret that Mark Craddock knows about the family? And how can Julian vindicate Dipper without accusing the family of the local law or bringing his man before the Bow Street Runners, who know his past all too well? Most historical mysteries drown in period detail, but this first novel by Boston attorney Ross subordinates its authoritative grasp of manners, language, and history to an expertly spun-out series of riddles. Whodunit is only the climactic revelation in a tale that crackles with contemporary tension.