Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck. After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect. However, Eliza learns that most of Nepommuck’s pupils had a reason to murder their blackmailing teacher. As another suspect turns up dead and evidence goes missing, Eliza and Higgins realize the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to discover which of Nepommuck’s many enemies is the real killer. When all the suspects attend a performance of Hamlet at Drury Lane, Eliza and Higgins don their theatre best and race to upstage a murderer.
This re-imagining of George Bernard Shaw’s beloved characters is sheer pleasure. Wouldn’t It Be Deadly transports readers to Edwardian London, from the aristocratic environs of Mayfair to the dangerous back alleys of the East End. Eliza and Henry steal the show in this charming traditional mystery. (Goodreads)
Wouldn’t it be Deadly is based on characters that first appeared in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalian and were made popular by the musical, and later movie, My Fair Lady. It picks up right where the musical ends, two months after the infamous Embassy Ball where Eliza Doolittle, an East End flower girl, was passed off as a duchess as a result of Professor Henry Higgins’ elocution lessons. Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering have been away on a two month long trip to Spain, and in the interim Eliza has moved out of Higgins house to reside with his mother and has taken a job with Higgins’ rival Emil Nepommuck as a phonetics teacher. Higgins, furious when he learns of her arrangement and that Nepommuck is taking credit for Eliza’s transformation to attract students, threatens to ruin Nepommuck and kill him.
How unfortunate that shortly after Higgins publishes an ad in the newspaper revealing Nepommuck as a fraud, the maestro is found stabbed in the back with one of Eliza’s tuning forks stuffed in his mouth. The presence of the tuning fork initially draws Eliza to the police’s attention, but she is quickly cleared of suspicion and learns that her cousin D.I. Jack Shaw is in charge of the case. Facing pressure from the victim’s fiancée Lady Gresham, the police are hard pressed to solve the crime quickly, and Higgins proves to be an easy prime suspect as he cannot produce an alibi and his dislike of Nepommuck was no secret. Hoping to literally save his neck, Eliza and Higgins set out to find the real perpetrator.
There are plenty of suspects to be had; most all of Nepommuck’s students had reason to want him dead. Mary Finch is in love with him, but she is already married, and her husband is none too happy. Rosalind Page is an actress and has a secret scandalous enough to end her career. James Nottingham is looking to better himself so that he may get a job with the bank, but he actually has far more nefarious plans. Kollas is posing as a retired Greek diplomat but is running from his past. Lady Gresham claims to have loved the victim, but did her heart belong to another? Is someone else from his past out to right a wrong? Why did Higgins lie about his alibi?
The story plays out as part mystery, part humor, and part adventure. Ireland has kept true to the essence of the original characters. Eliza is a nice mix of naïve lady and seasoned East Ender, and Higgins is at his arrogant yet oblivious best. One of the plot twists involving Higgins was quite a surprise, but it showed a softer side of the gruff professor. I could not help but hear and picture Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison as I read. The supporting characters are well drawn. Though blackmail is a common enough motivator in murder mysteries, the suspects’ reasons were interesting and revealed in a systematic manner. The climax of the story takes place during a performance of Hamlet, and it will have the reader laughing out loud.
I greatly enjoyed this first in a series and cannot wait to read the next installment. I highly recommend Wouldn’t it be Deadly to fans of Eliza and the Professor and to those who enjoy historical cozies.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*