The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies

The Ill-Mannered Ladies Series

By Alison Goodman

ISBN 9780593440810

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie


A high society amateur detective at the heart of Regency London uses her wits and invisibility as an ‘old maid’ to protect other women in a new and fiercely feminist historical mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman.

Lady Augusta Colebrook, “Gus,” is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents to rescue their friend’s goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.

The sisters set out to Caroline’s country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots and injures the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.

Back in London, Gus can’t stop thinking about her unlikely (not to mention handsome) comrade-in-arms. She is convinced Lord Evan was falsely accused of murder, and she is going to prove it. She persuades Julia to join her in a quest to help Lord Evan, and others in need—society be damned! And so begins the beguiling secret life and adventures of the Colebrook twins. (From Goodreads)


Note: Sexual abuse of women and girls is mentioned several times but not detailed

This novel, set in 1812 England, captured and held my attention. The author is adept at designing characters who quickly become almost real to the reader. The scenery, whether wooded or in the countryside, in the best or worst parts of town, came to life through scents, sounds, and visuals. The same can be said for the homes of those in different levels of society and the less-reputable businesses.

It sounds as if this era in England was a terrifying time for many women!  Married women had no rights, and unmarried women were often under the “protection” (thumb) of their father or brother.  Men could hold their wives/ family members as prisoners, abuse them, commit them to asylums, or do almost anything short of murder. I cringed at Lord Duffy, the imperious younger brother of our two protagonists, and several other, similar, men in this novel.

Lady Augusta “Gus” and Lady Julia are fraternal twins in their early forties, unmarried, and living in a home previously owned by their father. Julia was once engaged to be married, but her betrothed died in a hunting accident two years ago.

Gus and Julia set out on three intriguing “adventures” after helping a dear friend, Charlotte, handle a matter requiring utmost discretion. Each adventure is a life-and-death challenge. Despite Julia suffering from an illness that has already claimed two of their family members, she joined Gus on the adventures of helping women get out of horrible situations.

The sisters are in their carriage on the way to remove Caroline, one of Charlotte’s goddaughters, from her husband’s country estate. There, he held her prisoner, medicated and fearing for her life. Highwaymen stopped their carriage. Gus, holding a loaded pistol when the coach is jostled, accidentally grazed the man at their window. Julia recognized him as Lord Evan, incarcerated in Australia twenty years ago after the man he dueled with died. They couldn’t leave Evan on the side of the road, as he would be hung if recaptured, so he became a part of their first rescue.

Lord Evan is a likable rogue who calls himself Jonathan Hargate. Gus falls in love for the first time, a love doomed for heartache. She wants to help absolve him of the murder charge as Evan and his second in the duel know he barely nicked the man. He has something more important to handle before he leaves London for good. Gus could never leave her twin, especially with her illness. 

The next adventure is more difficult. Weatherly, their butler, is a benefactor to a young woman who takes in orphaned and abandoned girls, preparing them to make an honest living. One of her girls, only twelve, goes missing. It is suspected that she was taken by a bawdy house owner from another town.

Their third adventure is equally challenging. Evan’s sister, Lady Hester, was committed to an asylum by his brother. Hester’s lady friend has tried for two years to get her out. Evan grieved for not having been there to protect her. The only way to get in was for Evan and his “wife”, Gus, to acquire positions acting as a working-class porter and housekeeper, under an assumed name. One of London’s Bow Street Runners is now after Evan, as is a “thief-taker”.

Gus, Julia, Weatherly, and Evan are engaging people I would want on my side in a crisis. All are described very well through realistic conversations and behaviors. At times, Gus could be considered “ill-mannered”, but she is blunt whereas Julia is kinder and soft-spoken. Some situations were so well written about that I could feel their fear, disgust, or happiness.

The only unresolved situation was finding information to acquit Evan for the death of the man two decades ago. He couldn’t stay in London. Even if he was found not guilty, he would still be on the hook for becoming a highwayman to survive while seeking his sister. I wanted Evan and Gus to pursue a life together, but it doesn’t look possible. This is a fascinating set of adventures, very intriguing and suspenseful. I highly recommend this first in a new series!