Sunday, December 27, 2015
"Downton Abbeyish" Mystery Set in Aftermath of World War I
MURDER MOST MALICIOUS
December 29, 2015
I was delighted to receive a copy of Allyssa Maxwell's new mystery set in England in the immediate aftermath of WWI. I had greatly enjoyed her series set in Gilded Age Newport, RI Murder at the Breakers, Murder at Marble House, Murder at Beechwood). They seemed to me well-researched and were populated with fully formed and believable characters. I wish I could say the same for Murder Most Malicious.
Set in the large country house of Lord Wroxley, the story takes place at Christmas in the immediate aftermath of WWI. Lady Phoebe, 19-year-old second granddaughter of the house, overhears a heated argument between her icy older sister, Lady Julia, and a houseguest, Lord Allerton. It is clear that Lord Allerton is a cad and the expected engagement between the two will never happen. The next morning, Boxing Day, dawns with the discovery that Lord Allerton is missing from the house. Later in the day, some very unpleasant inclusions are found in the Christmas boxes of several servants and villagers. The search for the body of Lord Allerton is unsuccessful, but it appears that he must be dead. When a footman falls under suspicion, Lay Phoebe and her maid, Eva, join forces to clear his name.
I found it very difficult to keep the large cast of characters sorted and kept putting the book down in sheer frustration. All the country house mystery tropes were trotted out; the bumbling village policeman, the eccentric houseguests, the rakish valet and the martinet housekeeper. This was an uncorrected proof, which I usually take into account when reviewing. Hopefully, errors get corrected before publication, but there were a couple in the early part of the book that seemed to betray a lack of knowledge and research that I couldn't overlook. Finishing the book was a struggle. I don't require a mystery that keeps me guessing, but I do need characters that seem real to me. Other than Lady Phoebe and Eva, such characters are not present.
I wish I could recommend Murder Most Malicious. It was a great disappointment to me, especially after Maxwell's earlier Gilded Age mysteries. Those I do recommend highly to fans of historical mysteries. Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.