This is the 5th book in the Manor House series, which takes place in WWII England circa 1942 – 1944. I would not consider this a standalone novel as so much character and societal development has taken place previously. And this story begins only a few months after the conclusion of the previous.
In the prior novel, “Dig Deep for Murder,” the Beckham cottage on the manor had been the focus of several incidents. Fred Beckham had died of a heart attack in the cottage and then his body was mutilated in order to cover up a crime of a different sort. Before the tale was finished, the villain had attacked Lady Elizabeth in the cottage and left her to die.
Now Lady Elizabeth has found another body in the Beckham cottage, the new tenant, an artist by the name of Basil Thorncroft. Thorncroft has been stabbed to death through the heart, with no clues as to the identity of the murderer. And, thus, the first of the three plot threads is established.
The second plot thread, while truly secondary to the other two, is the continuing story of Polly, Lady Elizabeth’s assistant, and her relationship with the American pilot, Sam Cutter. In the last novel, Sam, by way of his own anger, wrecked a Jeep, causing massive injuries to his face. The psychological damage is even more massive and that aspect is part of this novel.
The other major plot thread is the relationship between Lady Elizabeth and Major Earl Monroe, a friendship that is really so much more for each of them but as yet un-confessed to the other. Then circumstances surrounding the murder serve as catalyst for those un-confessed feelings to begin their path toward a public declaration.
In this regard, feelings that had just been barely touched on or alluded to erupt into full acknowledgment in both Elizabeth’s internal monologues and Earl’s dialog. And it is in Elizabeth’s internal monologues that Kingsbury’s research and insight into the culture of the British nobility and the culture of that era shines. Elizabeth examines her feelings for Earl, acknowledges to herself that she loves the man and still decides that she must choose what is right in the long run rather than the temporary high of succumbing to the wants of the present.
The scenes between Lady Elizabeth and Earl are charged with honest emotion and the author cuts to the quick in their depth of understanding. Kingsbury paints a heart-rending clash between what they feel for each other and what they should do about what they feel, which, in the culture of the time, is nothing since Earl is married. But their friendship survives and even deepens as their sense of honor and their guiding principles remain steady.
By the end of the novel, the murderer is revealed and caught by the teamwork of Elizabeth and Earl. We are caught up on the activities of Violet (the cook), Martin (the senile butler), Sadie (the maid) and Marlene (Polly’s sister). And we are introduced to Douglas McNally, whose presence and purpose in Sitting Marsh is definitely the prelude to at least one more novel, if not more.