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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review - Bellfield Hall: Or, The Observations of Miss Dido Kent

Happy Thanksgiving!  For those not in the United States, this is a holiday that reminds us to give thanks for all we have.  

I stumbled across this Regency England mystery and the publisher was kind enough to send it for review. We have a country manor house with some strange events topped off with a murder of an unknown woman and a cast of varied characters. The main character is an independent, and therefore single, woman who may be too cleaver in discerning everybody's secrets.

Author: Anna Dean

Copyright: February 2010 (Minotaur Books) 300 pgs

Series: 1st in Dido Kent Mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical British Cozy

Main Character: Miss Dido Kent, spinster genteel woman

Setting: 1805, English country side

Obtained Through: publisher for honest review

Miss Dido Kent is called to a country manor house by her niece, Catherine. Catherine's fiancé, Richard Montague, breaks off the engagement just after the announcement of the engagement and while still at their engagement party. Michael is approached by a strange man, not a word is spoken, and suddenly he cancels the impending wedding and leaves the property. Dido rushes to the manor house to assist her niece. She arrives a few hours after a women is found murdered in the shrubbery - a gun shot to the face making her unidentifiable.

Miss Kent's first priority is to find out why Richard Montague abruptly broke off the engagement. But she can't help noticing how every person at Bellfield Hall, even the gatekeeper, appears to have secrets. She also suspects there just might be a connection between the murdered woman and the strange actions of young Richard.

Occasionally letters to Dido's sister are employed to good effect, breaking up the story and giving a good glimpse at Dido's thoughts and feelings which are insightful and sometimes humorous. Dido proves to be observant and intelligent, which is surprising to some who discount her for being a woman and for being single. There is a cast of interesting characters including a gentleman whom Dido shares in a letter to her sister makes her wish she hadn't given up on the whole idea of falling in love.

Dido really is the heart of the book and gracefully manages to figure out the murdered girl's identity in the first few chapters. This new series is being touted as Jane Austen meets Miss Marple. After reading it I can certainly see that.

There are just a few items I took issue with. When Dido figures out who the murdered girl was, she kept it to herself even though the police were trying to ID the body. Just a simple explanation of why she remained quite would have sufficed, but that didn't happen. There was a side story of another guest, the Colonel, always trying to locate a footman which I still don't understand why that was included at all.

The author does an outstanding job bringing the era and its societal norms to life which is critical in such a story. The dialog maintains the period and is witty. The characters are all finely drawn. The story moves along at a leisurely pace but clues are being dropped all along so pay attention. There is no suspenseful confrontation with the killer which was a bit of a let down (I must be spoiled, but I like that).

Overall this is a standout debut that lays a solid foundation to build a series upon. I foresee this not only being a hit, but the author developing a devoted fan base quickly. If you love mysteries and Regency England this will most likely become your new favorite.

This is "Mrs Bennet Regency Cat" by Tara Fly
This is a digital painting depicting Mrs. Bennet from 
Tara's cat adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice".

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