A Study in Death
A Lady Darby Mystery #4
By Anna Lee Huber
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Scotland, 1831. After a tumultuous courtship complicated by three deadly inquiries, Lady Kiera Darby is thrilled to have found both an investigative partner and a fiancé in Sebastian Gage. But with her well-meaning—and very pregnant—sister planning on making their wedding the event of the season, Kiera could use a respite from the impending madness.
Commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, Kiera is saddened when she recognizes the pain in the baroness’s eyes. Lord Drummond is a brute, and his brusque treatment of his wife forces Kiera to think of the torment caused by her own late husband.
Kiera isn’t sure how to help, but when she finds Lady Drummond prostrate on the floor, things take a fatal turn. The physician called to the house and Lord Drummond appear satisfied to rule her death natural, but Kiera is convinced that poison is the real culprit.
Now, armed only with her knowledge of the macabre and her convictions, Kiera intends to discover the truth behind the baroness’s death—no matter what, or who, stands in her way…(from Goodreads)
In spite of the grim-sounding title, I very much enjoyed this great new mystery for Lady Darby and Gage to work on! Lady Kiera Darby’s background often leads her to think the worst in certain situations, as in the unusual death of Lady Drummond, a woman whose husband had commissioned Kiera to paint her portrait. Kiera witnessed the Lady Drummond’s husband’s temper during one of the sittings, and had serious concerns for her. Kiera had endured rages and abuse from her late husband, resulting in her concern for other ladies who might be enduring something similar.
Kiera does what she can to assist with Lady Drummond’s death, trying to discover whether her death was ‘apoplexy’ as the doctor claimed, or murder. As she visits with various friends and acquaintances of the couple, danger begins to follow Kiera even as she asks Gage to go with her during some of those visits. There are so many secrets among the upper class, yet the rumors about Kiera’s seem to keep creeping about the locals. As a result, some of the ladies avoid her entirely while whispering with each other behind bejeweled hands. Meeting her future father-in-law was as stressful, as Lord Gage did not want his son to marry her.
Kiera is living with her brother-in-law and sister, Alana, who is many months along in a high-risk pregnancy. Alana’s husband Philip has been acting out of character, avoiding his wife as much as possible and working late with Parliament business. Alana distracts herself with planning the upcoming wedding of Gage and Kiera, but for the kind of wedding she would want for herself even though Kiera would be much happier with a very small setting. Alana and her baby have to survive the wee one’s birth, and Kiera and Gage survive the current investigation.
The characterizations are excellent, as thorough as required for each role. The novel is written first person which continually shows the reader more about her Kiera, her fiance and family, her painting, and thought processes while solving a case. Gage seems the perfect match for her, but at times it may not seem so. We see very little of Alana’s children, yet we learn more about Alana through her brief scenes. The maids and other staff members in each home truly do know more about the household occurrences, relationships, and visitors; a servant should never be ignored as Kiera well knows. Lady Drummond seems every bit the kind, elegant lady, well-liked by her servants and lady’s maid. Some of the informants that Kiera knows are defined so well that this reader could shiver just reading about them!
The author is adept at executing the perfect plot, with twists that take away one’s breath and keeps the reader riveted by this novel. I enjoy the setting in this fourth offering in the Lady Darby Mystery Series. Edinburgh, Scotland is a town full of history, even in 1831, a history going back centuries as we are not accustomed to in our relatively new United States. This book can be read as a standalone, since the author provides sufficient background, yet it might be helpful to read at least one of the earlier novels in the series.
The plot twists bring new suspects or rule out those existing. Each one shows bits of Kiera or Lady Drummond that may change the reader’s perspective. At times the scenes cascaded down then roared back up as if riding the rapids of deception, threatening lives or relationships. At other times the author could bring one to the calm peace of knowing one or another character is loved and cherished. Discovering who the bad guy/ bad gal might be was not easy for this armchair detective, however, I did begin to distrust the real murderer. The conclusion of the investigation was very satisfactory, and I very much am looking forward to the next Lady Darby mystery. I highly recommend ‘A Study in Death’ to those who enjoy the more traditional cozy mystery with a very likable protagonist and multi-layered mysteries.