Ottilia Draycott has just accepted a position as companion to the Dowager Lady Polbrook, expecting nothing more adventurous than a change of scenery after her former position as governess to her two young nephews. But on her very first day at her new post, the current Lady Polbrook (the dowager’s daughter-in-law) is found dead in her room, having been strangled sometime during the night. The household immediately falls into a panic, especially when it becomes evident that the master of the house has disappeared. Ottilia knows that suspicion is bound to fall on Randal Polbrook; no one knows where he has gone or why, and it’s common knowledge that he and his wife were estranged. But Ottilia, after examining the scene of the crime, believes the late Lady Polbrook was entertaining a lover on the night she died. She shares her suspicions with the dowager and with Lord Francis Fanshawe, the younger brother of the absent marquis. Together, they try to discover the lover’s identity and clear Randal’s name, while minimizing the scandal as much as possible. Meanwhile, the pragmatic, clear-headed Ottilia finds her objectivity compromised as she grows closer to Lord Francis.
I love a good historical mystery, and this book is a very solid member of the genre. Ottilia (despite her ridiculous name) is a very likable heroine, with a keen intelligence and a mischievous sense of humor. The other major players are also interesting, from the sharp-tongued but kindly dowager to the handsome Lord Francis. At times I felt that the characters were essentially copied from Georgette Heyer, but since I’m a big Heyer fan, I didn’t mind too much! And one big difference between this book and Heyer’s novels is that here, the servants aren’t just window dressing; they actually have some relevance to the plot. The mystery is well done, although I was able to guess the culprit before the solution was revealed in the book. I also liked the writing style, which seemed appropriate to the time period but was still fairly easy to understand. Oddly enough, my least favorite part of this book was the romance, which just seemed a bit stilted. Overall, I liked this book and will certainly read the sequel at some point, but I didn’t love it in the same way I love Kate Ross’s books, for example.