A Fiancee's Guide to First Wives and Murder by Dianne Freeman
This is the fourth in a late-Victorian era cozy mystery series centred on Frances, widowed Countess of Harleigh. I didn’t realise it was the fourth in the series when I picked it up for review; it stands pretty well alone though a few characters could perhaps have done with a little more introduction. Frances is a widow with a young daughter (who is off the page for most of this book visiting Paris with Frances’ mother). From context, it’s obvious that Frances is American and married her Earl with the aid of a healthy dowry, which the earl promptly spent the majority of before he died, leaving Frances not exactly impoverished but not wealthy either. Now engaged to her next door neighbour George Hazleton, Frances finds herself drawn into a completely insane series of events when a police inspector brings a young woman to her doorstep who claims to be, in turn, an illegitimate relation of the czar of Russia, an actress, George Hazelton’s wife, and in fear of her life.
Frances is quite understandably thrown, but she also can’t allow Irena to run around London making wild claims like that. Being engaged to an already married man would destroy Frances’ reputation. George insists he’s not married to Irena, and in fact another man comes forward to claim he is… but when Irena is found strangled in Frances’ back garden, Frances and George are both suspects with obvious motive and opportunity.
I really liked this. It felt really authentic to the period (1899) and Frances is a fabulous heroine, strong and determined. I’m probably going to go looking for the rest of the series because I want more of her backstory and I definitely want more of her and George’s romance. I even want more of her utterly impossible mother. It’s always a disadvantage to step into a series part way through, but this was good enough to overcome that, with some real historical personages and happenings sprinkled in among the fictional ones making it a fascinating read. Five stars for a great Victorian cozy mystery full of charm, and I will definitely be looking for more by this author.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.