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Fourth in a series of comedy romantic murder mysteries
on 13 June 2007
This is the fourth in a series of murder mysteries set in Britain and France in the first decade of the 20th century featuring Captain Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose Summer.
To date there are four books in the series, which are
Snobbery with Violence
Sick of Shadows
Our Lady of Pain
The author writes romantic fiction, mostly humorous Regency romances plus some set in the Edwardian period, under the name Marion Chesney, and mystery/detective stories such as the Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth series under the name M.C. Beaton.
This Edwardian series is a something of a cross-over between the two - part romance and part murder mystery - and the books often have both names on the cover (usually something like "M.C. Beaton writing as Marion Chesney.)
The main characters in the series are:
Captain Harry Cathcart, younger son of a Baron, has left the army after being injured in the Boer war. At the start of the first book in the series he carried out a service for Lady Rose's father for which he gained a reputation as a fixer, and by the time of this fourth book he is successfully running a business as the Edwardian equivalent of a Private Investigator - though this makes some members of "Society" look down on him as being "in trade."
Lady Rose Summer, Harry's fiance and the only daughter of the Earl and Countess of Hadfield. Slightly notorious as having briefly been involved with suffragettes. Chafes at the fact that society will not allow her a useful role, and constantly looking for something more challenging to do -from working as a typist or secretary to helping the police solve murders.
Beckett - Harry's "personal gentleman" - in love with Daisy.
Daisy - Lady Rose's companion. A former chorus girl, but when Captain Cathcart recruited her to play the role of a maid with a contagious disease as one of the escapades in the first book, Lady Rose recruited her to do the job for real. Later Lady Rose promoted her from Maid to Companion. In love with Becket and wants to marry him.
Detective Superintendent Kerridge - a senior policeman of humble origins and carefully supressed radical views, reinforced by the fact that whenever he has to interview an aristocrat they always threaten to report him to the Prime Minister. In the first three books, he played Inspector Slack to Lady Rose's Miss Marple. By this one his main role is releasing Harry or Lady Rose from arrest on the frequent occasions one of them is wrongly accused of murder.
At the start of this fourth book, Lady Rose Summer is engaged to Captain Harry Cathcart for the second time. They originally agreed an engagement at the end of the second book to prevent Lady Rose's parents shipping her out to India to find a husband. The engagement was broken off and then re-established in the third book.
Although you would think that their propensity for breaking up and re-contracting engagements was a dead give-away, neither has ever admitted that they actually have feelings for each other. Lady Rose "would have sworn on a stack of bibles that she was not a jealous woman." Then a gorgeous courtesan from Paris, Mademoiselle Dolores Duval, hires Harry in his capacity as an investigator.
When Harry accompanies Dolores to the theatre, Lady Rose completely loses her temper, and the book loses any claim to authenticity as a picture of Edwardian Society. She snaps at Mademoiselle Duval an insult which a titled lady of that time would never have heard of and the threat to "leave my fiance alone ... or I'll kill you."
Unfortunately the following morning Lady Rose discovers Dolores Duval's murdered body - and is then arrested for the murder when the cleaning lady finds Rose standing over the body with a gun in her hand.
This starts a madcap series of scrapes which range from London to Oxford to Paris to Scotland, and include several more murders, Lady Rose and Daisy spending some time under the supervision of a group of Anglican Benedictine nuns who are as ascetic and severe as the strictest Catholic ones, and with romances, engagements and marriages made, sundered, and on again.
Despite my previous comparison with Miss Marple, this is not in the same league as Agatha Christie as a detective story, and neither is it in the same league as Jane Austen as a romance. Nor, indeed, is it one of the author's best books. When she is really on form, M.C. Beaton/Marion Chesney is capable of good characterisation and flashes of delightful humour. However apart from the absurd parody of convent life, and the ironic trick by which Lady Rose's parents are persuaded to allow her to leave the convent, there isn't as much good humour in this book as the author usually manages to include. There is a lot of non-stop action with many twists and turns but it never stops for long enough for the reader to really care much about what's happening.
Worth reading if you enjoyed the other books in the series and want to know what happens next, or if you are looking for a mildly entertaining light read. Otherwise, give it a miss.