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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Review - A Useful Woman

Inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, this new mystery series set in 19th-century London introduces  resourceful Rosalind Thorne, a woman privy to the secrets of high society—including who among the them is capable of murder.  Yep, that hooked me and I had to read this new historical mystery.  The author visited us and you can read her guest blog (click here.)

Author: Darcie Wilde

Copyright: May 2016 (Berkley) 368 pgs

Series: 1st in Rosalind Thorne Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Rosalind Thorne, former heiress

Setting: Early 1800s, London

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Rosalind Thorne (Rose Thorn!) is the daughter of a baronet and minor heiress who was nearly ruined after her father abandoned the family because of loosing his fortune in bad investments. To survive in high society - the only world she knows, she began to manage the affairs of some of London society’s most influential women, who have come to rely on her wit and discretion.

So, when aristocratic wastrel Jasper Aimesworth is found dead in London’s most exclusive ballroom, Almack’s, Rosalind must use her skills and connections to uncover the killer from a list of suspects that includes Almack’s powerful patronesses (that includes her godmother) and her former suitor Devon Winterbourne, now Lord Casselmaine. Torn between her old love and a growing attraction to a compelling Bow Street runner, Rosalind must unravel the mysteries surrounding Jasper’s death.

Rosalind Thorne is a memorable character, a proper British version of True Grit's Mattie Ross came to my mind.  She is a survivor and has more substance than most society ladies.  Devon Winterbourne, now Lord Casselmaine, was Rose's old flame but I still wonder about his true character.  Adam Harkness is a Bow Street detective who has more compassion than even modern police are portrayed, although ever so subtle.  I enjoyed Ms Wilde's depiction of one of England's historic early detectives who were privately hired.  Although I find the "cop boyfriend" very cliche, this raises class tensions between Rose and Harkness as well as society's fanatical avoidance of even a hint of scandal, so being chummy with a cop is out-of-the-question and introduces a forbidden element to their attraction.  Honoria Aimesworth, spoiled and dislikes Rose personally, but begs Rose to find her bother's killer - is a society hot potato.  Alice and George Littlefield are the break out characters.  Dear friends of Rose's who lost their fortunes but took to newspaper employment to make their way in life and stay close to Rose.  All the characters jump from the pages.

London's class struggles are depicted brilliantly, and the exclusivity of Almacks and and even life-impacting influence are demonstrated and illuminated clearly.  Regency romance portrayals of Almack's pale in comparison to this "insider's behind-the-scenes" look that this book provides.
The plot is intricately layered and the motive remains hidden until Rosalind figures out the scheme that killed the society boy.  The sophistication and polite society of the story is a veneer hiding a sinister killer and dark ambition.  In line with this theme of a dark underbelly, the climax is taut and displays the ugly killer who is one of the shinning high society ton in stark and scary contrast.  The wrap up completes the story but leaves enough hanging to continue in the next book. 

I have a new favorite in my historical go-to list.  The writing is deft with delicate touches that build to a masterful tapestry of character, setting, and plot.  As Oliver Twist said, "May I have some more please?"  Soon, very, very soon please.

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.

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Mia P. Manansala said...

I absolutely love Jane Austen, and a Jane Austen-inspired mystery sounds amazing! I still need to read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, but I'm definitely adding this to the list as well.

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