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Review: Death on a Silver Tray by Rosemary Stevens

Genre: Historical detective fiction, murder mystery, cosy mystery.
Themes: Murder, social reputations, unhappy marriages,


I originally  chose the third book in the Beau Brummell mysteries as the book with an item of clothing in the title for the What's in a Name Challenge. However, I prefer, whenever possible, to read series books in the correct reading order, so I decided to read this, the first book in the series, as a preliminary to The Bloodied Cravat. I read this one through, but The Bloodied Cravat was a DNF for me (see the glossary)and I ended up with another book for the challenge.


This is quite a frothy mystery in the historical/cosy sub-genre. A loathsome old aristocratic woman is murdered by adding poison to her nightly drink of warm milk and the prime suspect is her lady's companion, a young gentlewoman recommended to her by the Duchess of York. Brummell is in love with the Duchess and will do just about anything she asks of him, but as she is married to a member of the royal family and a scandal could destroy them both, they keep it on a platonic level. However, a scandal is looming because if the young lady is found guilty, it will have dire social consequences for the Duchess, and when Brummell declares his conviction of the young woman's innocence in public, he puts his own reputation - a much flimsier affair than that of the Duchess - on the line as well, so there is no backing out of his promise to the Duchess to find the real killer. And so he does, aided by his faithful valet, Robinson, with occasional input from a Bow Street detective, Mr. Lavender.

Brummell makes any number of mistakes one would expect from a novice detective, something I heartily approve of. It would have been very wrong to have him do brilliant deductions right off the bat while investigating his first case, and as a matter of fact, it's a couple of comments dropped by people in conversation that advance the case towards its solution.

I think I prefer this cover to the other one.
I have written elsewhere about how I loathe it when real people are commandeered by authors and made into characters in novels, especially when they are made to behave in ways that would be out of character for them. It's one of the reasons I have never read any of the Jane Austen mysteries, for example. But here we have a very famous historical gentleman being made into a sleuth.To my surprise I found I didn't really mind, perhaps because I know quite little about Beau Brummell other than that he was a celebrity in the modern sense, famous for his dress sense and good taste, and for his friendship with the Prince of Wales. I am also used to seeing him as a supporting character in any number of historical novels written about the era, so I suppose I see him more as a fictional character than a real one.

The character seems to be based, as far as personality goes, on Hercule Poirot. Both are conceited and self-assured dandies, but the difference is that we only ever really get to see Poirot from the outside, as seen by either a partially omniscient third person narrator, or by Hastings, who isn't exactly a reliable narrator. The Beau Brummell books, on the other hand, are narrated in the first person by the Beau himself, and so we get to see his self-doubt and insecurities, which makes him a more likeable and human character.

And then there's the cat. I hope this isn't going to turn into a series with a cat as the Watson.

The story is, as I stated above, frothy and light, but does touch on serious subjects apart from murder, e.g. the social conditions of servants and the problems faced by servant girls who find themselves in the family way, something that would generally result in them being let go from their positions without a reference - often by the very men who impregnated them - a terrible thing in those days.

This was an entertaining read, but I don't think I'll be keeping the book. In the cull box it goes, and then to the charity shop for someone else to buy and enjoy.

Readers: Have you read the other books in the series and would you recommend any title in particular?Although I didn't finish the other book, I am still not ready to give up on the series.

Comments

Greg said…
I'm not always a fan of real life figures being made into protagonists either, so I can relate to that. Nevertheless this does sound like a fun read! The mystery sounds interesting and I like that cover.

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