A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder
Countess of Harleigh Mystery #4
By Dianne Freeman
Author’s website: difreeman.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
For Frances Wynn, widow to the late Earl of Harleigh, life has a cosmopolitan flavor of late. No sooner has she sent her mother and daughter off on a shopping trip to Paris than she and her fiancé, George Hazleton, are socializing with visiting members of the Russian royal family. Yet amid this whirlwind, scandal also comes calling when Inspector Delaney turns up outside Frances’s house with a young French woman with a shocking claim: she is Mrs. George Hazelton.
As the future Mrs. George Hazelton, Frances assumes the woman is either lying or demented. Mrs. Hazelton, aka Irena, makes other outrageous statements. Among them, she insists that she is the illegitimate daughter of Russian royalty, that she has been abducted and held for ransom many times, and that someone is sending her threatening letters. When George arrives, he clarifies that he is certainly not married to Irena–though he can confirm her royal parentage. But even as he agrees to investigate whether Irena’s life is in danger, her claim proves tragically true. Irena is found strangled in Frances’ garden.
To uncover a killer–and clear their own names–Frances and George must determine which of Irena’s outlandish stories were based in fact, and who stood to benefit from her death. And as the search reaches a shocking conclusion, they may find that villainy lurks all too close to home… (Goodreads)
A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder, the fourth book in the superb Countess of Harleigh Mystery series, is delightful from start to finish with loads of humor, murder, and scandal.
Frances, Countess of Harleigh, is stunned when Inspector Delaney arrives on her doorstep with Irena Teskey in tow, loudly insisting that she is Mrs. George Hazelton…Frances’s fiancé…and related to Russian royalty. George does know Irena and quickly sets the record straight, but a potential scandal is already brewing. In an effort to not draw attention from gossipy neighbors, Frances agrees to house Irena while she and George investigate, at the behest of the Prince of Wales, Irena’s claims of being threatened since she arrived in England to open a theater. Things become dicey when Irena is found strangled in Frances’s garden.
The Countess of Harleigh series is fabulous and so much fun. It is quite witty while staying true to the Victorian era in which it is set. Frances is American by birth, a dollar princess, and widow. She is smart, spunky and does not shy away from any circumstance or problem. As a widow, she has a modicum of independence and has found a second chance at love with her next door neighbor George. George is quite supportive of Frances, and they make a sweet, endearing couple. Their banter is entertaining. They and the supporting characters are all well developed.
This mystery’s focus Irena is flamboyant, prone to exaggeration, attention seeking, and exhausting. Even so, I felt bad for her demise and remained invested in her story throughout. There are several suspects with excellent motives – her husband, business partner at the theater, and a fellow actress just to name a few. Her background is somewhat sad, but I enjoyed the glimpses of the Russian royal family. I did not see the tense, exciting climax coming even though, in hindsight, there were clues sprinkled throughout the story. Its connection to Frances makes it all the more compelling.
A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder is a top notch historical mystery. It stands up just fine as a standalone, but I think it is best enjoyed if read in series order. Highly recommended to any historical reader looking for a lighthearted escapade.