A Quiet Life in the Country (A Lady Hardcastle Mystery, Book 1)
By TE Kinsey
I think it says something about where my life is that I’m being drawn to speedy little mystery novels right now. As far as these things go, this is a great little mystery book.
It starts off with Lady Emily Hardcastle and her Lady’s Maid Flo Armstrong arriving at their new home in a village outside Bristol in 1908. They have moved away from London in search of a “quiet life” having hung up their adventuring shoes after a life jumping from China, to India, and back to London with several stops in between. We hear secondhand of some of these adventures, and I am rather hoping that down the line the author might fill us in a bit more. They almost sound like an Edwardian Indiana Jones, Female Edition duo. While Flo is technically Emily’s Ladies Maid, at this point they are closer to best friends, and all the trappings of the master/servant divide have more or less eroded away, except when it is necessary in public. They have a fun, witty banter where they pretty much constantly tease each other.
The second day of their tenure in their new home they stumble across a body hanging from a tree in the woods. What initially looks to be a suicide very quickly reveals itself to be a murder. After the cops seem to take a less than deep interest in the case of the cricket-playing clerk Emily decides she and Flo will “poke around” and see if they can’t “help the police along.” Meanwhile, the wedding of the decade for the county is in the works, where the daughter of the local minor gentry is engaged to the son of the Shipping Barron and his new money wife from Bristol. While at the engagement party for the young couple a member of the Ragtime band hired as entertainment is killed in the Library and a priceless emerald is stolen. It isn’t clear if the two are related or not. As Inspector Sunderland, who turns out to be far more astute and invested in his cases than he at first seems, tries to work out who killed both men, Lady Highcastle and Flo utilize their Upstairs/Downstairs connections to help him along and solve all three crimes.
This is a fun little romp of a book, perfect for light reading on a rainy day. I flew through it. The author does a lot of playing with class issues without getting too bogged down in the moral questions or history lessons. The mystery is twisty and opaque enough that I didn’t have it all figured out halfway through, but the ending is still very logical and satisfying. It’s also rather funny, which is nice.
The characters are interesting and more or less real feeling. I enjoy the banter between Flo and Emily and the little peeks into their pasts, such as Flo growing up in the circus and Emily’s husband getting killed in China are fun and thought through. They were referenced so often, though, I wondered at first if I had accidentally started a series right in the middle and that I should know these stories more deeply than I do.
There is one more book out so far and I’ll probably pick it up in a few months when I’m in need of something else light and fun. I have a feeling I’ll need a lot of light and fun books to distract me for the next few years and I don’t want to burn through all of them right away.