A Useful Woman
A Rosalind Thorne Mystery, Book #1
By Darcie Wilde
Author Website: Darciewilderomance.com
Inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, this new mystery series set in 19th-century London introduces the charming and resourceful Rosalind Thorne, a woman privy to the secrets of high society—including who among the ton is capable of murder…
The daughter of a baronet and minor heiress, Rosalind Thorne was nearly ruined after her father abandoned the family. To survive in the only world she knew, she began to manage the affairs of some of London society’s most influential women, who have come to rely on her wit and discretion.
So, when aristocratic wastrel Jasper Aimesworth is found dead in London’s most exclusive ballroom, Almack’s, Rosalind must use her skills and connections to uncover the killer from a list of suspects that includes Almack’s powerful patronesses and her former suitor Devon Winterbourne, now Lord Casselmaine.
Torn between her old love and a growing attraction to a compelling Bow Street runner, Rosalind must not only unravel the mysteries surrounding Jasper’s death, but the mysteries of her own heart as well… (Goodreads)
Full of the glitter of the ton, A Useful Woman introduces us to the resourceful young woman Rosalind Thorne and her motley crew of friends and “family”, and leaves the reader wanting more, impatiently waiting for the next installment in this new mystery series.
After Rosalind’s baron father flees his debts during the dark of night, she and her mother find themselves in greatly reduced circumstances. Her dreams of marrying Devon Winterbourne, a second son, are dashed, and under the guidance of her godmother Lady Blanchard, she must find her own way to survive in the fringes of polite society. She finds a talent in handling the affairs of the society women of London. She agrees to help her godmother choose her successor as one of the patronesses of Almacks, the most elite social club in town. However, these plans are soon superseded by the death of Jasper Ainsworth, one of the candidates for patroness’s son. Society wishes to gloss over his death, which occurred in the Almacks ballroom, blaming it on a youthful dare accidentally gone deadly wrong. But, Rosalind, having discovered the body, believes foul play is involved. So when her nemesis of sorts, Jasper’s sister Honoria asks her to look into Jasper’s death, she feels compelled to agree. She does not bargain on seeing Honoria’s almost fiancé Deon, now Lord Casselmaine. Her Devon. When Bow Street Principal Officer Adam Harkness is called to investigate, he sees an unlikely ally in Rosalind.
I adore historical mysteries, and A Useful Woman does not disappoint. Wilde does an admirable job of detailing the world of high society in 1817 London without veering into lecture or information overload. The shimmering, polite (at least on the surface), etiquette driven era is a fabulous foil to the heinousness of Jasper’s murder and the secrets his death are meant to conceal. The lengths the gentry will go to cover up scandal and “unpleasantness” never ceases to amaze me. Rosalind discovers revelations in layers which add to the suspense of the mystery. With plenty of twists and turns in the plot, I was kept guessing for a good portion of the book. And, one revelation in particular came as a surprise to me.
Rosalind is uncharacteristic for her time, but not unbelievably so. She is intelligent, observant, and resourceful. She has great fortitude to survive on the fringes of society, and, though she is able to fix other people’s scandals, she can never fully shake her own. I cannot imagine the trials of being raised to be a lady only to not become one. Devon is a charming, and he has matured into an interesting version of himself, inheriting a title and position that he never thought would be his. I particularly enjoyed the moments when hints of the young man that Rosalind fell in love with shine through. Officer Harkness is an equally intriguing character who brings out a whole other side of Rosalind. He is charming in his own way. I am no fan of love triangles, but I look forward to seeing where Wilde takes these three. The supporting characters are also compelling, demonstrating the ridiculousness of the ton and the plight of those who do not measure up. Rosalind’s friends Alice and George are enjoyable, Mrs. Kendricks is loveable in her loyalty, and Sanderson Faulks is the delightful embodiment of an irreverent dandy.
I liked just about everything about A Useful Woman and cannot wait for the next installment in the series. I recommend it to fans of historical mysteries, especially gentle, cozy reads.