Think Downton Abbey with a big dash of Miss Marple, and you will begin to get a flavor of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, a debut novel by Tessa Arlen. Fans of Downton Abbey will heartily enjoy Arlen’s story featuring a look at the upstairs/downstairs phenomenon in pre-World War II England.
Lord and Lady Monfort are hosting their annual summer ball at their estate, Iyontwood. Both the upstairs privileged class and the downstairs servants have been involved in the preparations. Unfortunately, the ball concludes with the disappearance of a young house maid and the daughter of one of Lord and Lady Montfort’s close friends (who had attended the ball), as well as the gruesome murder of a particularly distasteful character, the nephew of Lord Montfort. Are the matters related? The search for the young girls and the killer ensues.
Lady Monfort sees immediately that her beloved son is going to quickly become the prime suspect. So she asks for the help of Iyontwood’s pragmatic housekeeper Mrs. Jackson (Downton fans, think Mrs. Hughes). Together, the two of them work to find the real killer using their skills and individual connections. Since almost everyone at the ball seems to have a good reason for wanting the despicable character dead, the solution isn’t readily apparent.
In addition to being a pretty darn good murder mystery, the novel presents a clear picture of the crumbling of the peerage system beginning shortly after World War I. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the novel as much were I not such a big fan of Downton Abbey. I definitely understood the upstairs/downstairs relationships better than I would have pre-Downton Abbey.
Arlen lays out the mystery very subtly and effectively. She leaves clues all along the way, so readers must pay attention. I did not solve the mystery and was surprised at the solution.
Since this is a debut novel, I’m not sure whether this will become a series. I rather hope so, because I was very fond of the characters and would like to meet them again. I think I can definitely count on more offerings from this writer, and I look forward to reading them in the future.
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