This book features Caroline Morton, Lady Caroline to some, who has turned her back on society and accepted a job as a companion rather than live with her aunt and uncle as the poor relation. Her father squandered the family fortune, causing a huge scandal, and now society is set to blame Caroline; but she is having none of it.
It’s this calm, take charge attitude that Caroline brings to the story, and the house party she is attending because it is at her aunt’s house and her cousin has requested she come to celebrate her birthday. Caroline consistently presents a calm, almost impervious front to the society elite who are critical of her attendance, her employer, and of her decision to work to earn her money rather than accept what her aunt and uncle offer.
Because she is still a member of the household, the servants come to get her when they discover the butler wandering dazed in the wine cellar. She takes charge, calls in the local doctor, and then starts to find out who would put the old man in a cage in the cellar, and was the intent worse than the result? Close behind that, her maiden great aunt, who has lived in the house almost all her life is found murdered. She and the doctor begin to question circumstances, but when they voice their concerns to her uncle, the local magistrate, he refuses to consider the deaths anything other than natural occurrences.
Not knowing what to do, Caroline turns to her employer, Mrs. Froggerton, a wealthy widow whose husband was in trade. It was only through Caroline’s insistence that Mrs. Froggerton and her daughter were invited to the house party, and she has experienced her own share of rejection. Like Caroline, she decides to ignore those who think they are better than she is because this is her daughter’s opportunity to experience life in high society.
Caroline and Mrs. Froggerton, aided on occasion by the doctor, begin to investigate the murders in the hope of convincing Caroline’s uncle to begin an investigation of his own. Meanwhile, a rainstorm continues outside, confining the occupants to the house. Party activities continue, and Caroline spends what time she can with her sister who still lives in the nursery at the house until Caroline can save enough money to provide a home for the two of them.
As the investigation continues, it points to things that happened in the past to the waifs and strays Caroline’s aunt brought into the house. While on the surface she provided them shelter and an escape from a poor house, their lives were less pleasant than legitimate members of the household, Mable, Caroline’s cousin, has invited some of them back to the house to celebrate her birthday, and this adds a level of strife to the house as they are not members of society, yet they are allowed to mix with the other guests.
The investigation takes a number of twists and turns, most of which are unsuspected, and initially cause Caroline and Mrs. Froggerton to suspect first one and then another of the people in the house. These suspicions are proven wrong, and Caroline and Mrs. Froggerton are left to continue their investigation. When the final piece of information is revealed, it is both shocking and disturbing; but Caroline continues to push toward bringing those responsible to justice. For her, she sees it as the only acceptable outcome for what has happened.
The character development is very good, with excellent depictions of the more principal characters. There are a few slow spots that occur during some phases of the investigation, but nothing so significant it would cause the reader to stop reading. Caroline and Mrs. Froggerton both present unusually independent women for the period, and the reader can enjoy their decisions to act as they see fit, ignoring some of the more restrictive and/or snobbish behaviors that were acceptable in the day.
A good book for anyone who wants to read something that takes place in the Regency period but that has a different focus than the elaborate dress, fancy parties, and extravagant life of members of the ton.
My thanks to Kensington Books for providing an advance copy of the book for review. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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