The first book in the Victorian Mystery series, published July 1998.
Kate Ardleigh is everything the Victorian English gentlewoman is not--outspoken, free-thinking, American...and a writer of the frowned upon "penny-dreadfuls." When Kate arrives in Essex, England, she shocks the household at Bishop’s Keep – and captures the interest of amateur detective Sir Charles Sheridan as they begin their first case together.
A dead body is uncovered at a nearby archaeological dig. The investigation provides the perfect research for Kate’s fiction. But the curious writer may be digging too deep – especially when the trail leads her into a secret occult society known as the Order of the Golden Dawn …
Kate has just returned from her publishers, when she discovers she is being followed by a man. Again. But instead of running scared, she intends to confront the man. Kate knows there is a police station around the corner, as her uncle works there. So she quickly turns the corner, and hides in the doorway. The man in question is not happy at being found out, and he reluctantly tells her, he is from Pinkerton’s detective agency, and she will learn more next Friday at two. And with that message, the man disappears.
As it turns out, Kate has an aunt in England, the sister of her late father. She wants Kate to come work for her, as her companion/secretary, for a generous salary. Upon questioning further, the man knows nothing at all about her aunt, and what she thinks is a generous salary. Still, Kate accepts the offer, and travels to England. She loves the adventure, and it will all be great research for her novels. Her publisher told her, the bloodier, the better.
Upon arrival in England, Kate finds out she has not one aunt, but two. One who welcomes her wholeheartedly, her aunt Sabrina Ardleigh, and one who resents her for being half Irish, and American. Her aunt Bernice Jaggers-Ardleigh. There is great animosity between her aunts, and even though the house and everything belongs to aunt Sabrina, it is aunt Jaggers who runs the household, with an iron fist. The servants suffer greatly under her rule, but as it soon becomes clear to Kate, there is nothing to be done about that. Clearly her aunt Sabrina is being blackmailed by her younger sister.
Aunt Jaggers is big on religion, forcing the servants to attend three times a week. But aunt Sabrina has found another religion, more like a cult, and as one of Kate’s duties, she will have to help with the correspondence and authenticating of the cult’s papers. And then there is the body of a foreign man discovered in the nearby archaeological dig. Aunt Sabrina is highly interested in the case, and she wants Kate to find out whatever there is to know.
Kate travelled from London to Sussex in the company of miss Eleanor Marsden, a neighbour of her aunts, who introduced her to her family and her brother’s friend who is staying with them, Sir Charles Sheridan. Sir Charles is kind of a scholar, interested in everything. From photography to fingerprints to automobiles to bats. As it happens, he was at the scene of the crime, taking pictures of the body and the evidence he could find. The local police is totally unsuited for the job of finding out the identity of the murdered man, let alone the murderer! So Sir Charles is following leads, investigating the case. And he thinks Kate’s interest is strange, and not at all what a well bred English Lady would be doing. But Kate is very perceptive, and uncovers some clues and insights as well. And very reluctantly, Sir Charles is admiring Kate for the independent woman she is.
When Kate works hard on the papers of the Order, she becomes more and more sure the whole thing is a scam. The atmosphere in the house is getting worse, the hatred is escalating, and the servants are even plotting murder. Kate is not so sure she will be staying for long. Even her cheerful attitude is being influenced by the hatred and spite in the air.
But then the catastrophe she was waiting for happens, and Kate has to find out the truth before she herself is accused of murder!
A great cozy mystery, with a historic bent. I loved it. From the first I liked Kate for being whom she is. Taking the plunge into the unknown, when it is not a necessity to do so. For staying true to herself, even when her aunt Jaggers forbids her to read novels or the paper, and wants her to attend church. Or when her new friend Eleonor is a bit shocked by her behaviour.
She is a very determined person, standing securely on the ground, but feeling emotions deeply. She lost her parents at a young age, and is raised by an aunt and uncle, before she goes into service as a ladies companion/secretary. She even learns German and how to use a typewriter to better herself. And she is determined to make a name for her self as an author.
I loved how Robin Paige wove Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde and some other famous persons of that era into the story. Kate gets to meet them, and cross verbal swords with them. And she wonders why Sherlock Holmes was killed of, when all the loyal readers wants him resurrected. She actually lectures mr. Doyle on the subject.
This book is filled with great characters, both the main and the secondary, and I really want to read the rest of the series. The one thing I did have trouble with, was the accent of the servants. A lot of letters are being substituted by ‘ which makes reading a bit difficult for me. The story is alternately told from the point of view of Kate, Sir Charles and even the Cook. And bit by bit of the current mystery, and of the tragedy that happened recently is revealed.
A nice, fast paced mystery, set against Victorian England.