Book Review by Debbie Winkler
Lady Rose Summer is delighted to finally be able to experience life as a simple, working-class girl. She and her maid, Daisy, leave her parents’ comfortable home for a drafty boarding house and begin work as typists at a local bank. Unfortunately, life as a working girl is not at all what Rose thought it would be. So it is with a sense of relief that Rose greets the news of the murder of Freddy Pomfret, a society acquaintance. Now Rose has the excuse she needs to return home to her comfortable living and use her social status to investigate the crime with Captain Harry Cathcart. It is fairly obvious that Freddy was blackmailing at least three people, but who were they? And which one of them killed Freddy to keep their secret safe?
Marion Chesney has created an intriguing pair of detectives in Captain Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose Summer. While Cathcart is the younger son of a baron, he is looked down upon by his societal peers because he actually works for a living (out of necessity as he doesn’t stand to inherit anything in the way of funds from his family). Lady Rose Summer, on the other hand, is the only daughter of a wealthy earl. Though beautiful, Rose lacks charm and the ability to fit into society. Rose’s parents despair of ever being able to marry off their daughter and are threatening to send her off to India to marry her off to a military man. Cathcart persuades them to let Rose have her little working adventure and gets one of his friends to hire Rose and Daisy to work at a bank. What Cathcart doesn’t realize is that Rose manages to ferret out the truth in regards to her working arrangements and is stubbornly determined to stick it out, no matter how much she secretly doesn’t like working. Rose hates the drafty boarding house she lives in and doesn’t have enough money to purchase warm water, good food or anything that she deems a basic necessity. What Rose is slowly coming to realize is that what she considers necessities are actually luxuries. The living conditions of the working class at the time were certainly dreary and it must have been a struggle to keep working hard every day just to stay alive with no hopes of something better. It made me appreciate my little apartment and all of my little comforts – we really have come a long way!
I got a good laugh out of Rose’s adventures during the beginning of the book and knew it was only a matter of time before she gave in and returned home, just as Cathcart predicted she would. I was a bit surprised when Cathcart worked with Rose to come up with a solution to keep her from being sent to India, however, as it involves a fake engagement between the two of them. Cathcart is getting steady work investigating for the society lords and ladies. He now has his own office and regularly consults with Scotland Yard, but Cathcart’s achievements do not impress Rose’s parents in the slightest. In fact, his willingness to work makes Cathcart even less desirable as a son-in-law! Still, beggars can’t be choosers and Rose’s family seem quite happy to have someone – anyone! – take Rose off of their hands before she gets the family involved in a scandal that they cannot recover from. An engagement was serious business in Edwardian England and you could not simply break up after the announcement was made without damaging someone’s reputation. I’m not sure what else could have been done to keep Rose in the country, but I hope that Cathcart realizes he has feelings for Rose quickly or she will slip through his fingers.
The mystery is more of a subplot than the main storyline in this book, but it still added a nice touch to the plotline. We met the victim, Freddy Pomfret, in the first book, Snobbery with Violence. He seemed to be a rather silly society boy with social aspirations. Before his death, Freddy was in the market to buy a title, but where was his money coming from? Turns out that Freddy deposited 10,000 pounds into his bank account just before he died. With no property, no job, and no recent inheritance, it is obvious that Freddy was blackmailing at least three people. It will take a great deal of creativity and tact to persuade the lords and ladies involved to reveal their secrets to Cathcart. Indeed, it seems that the blackmail victims are perfectly willing to let the murder go unsolved rather than risk embarrassment and social consequences. If the story had stayed focused on this mystery, I would have been content. A little bit of sparring between Rose and Cathcart, some heated discussions about proper behavior for a lady in Rose’s position and a budding romance between their servants, Becket and Daisy and I would have been positively delighted with this book! Unfortunately, Marion Chesney had to drive the story all over the place! Blackmail leads to kidnapping, which leads to Rose’s commitment to a mental institution, then a daring rescue by Cathcart, ending with a house party planned as a trap for the villain (which goes hilariously wrong). Add in a wicked doctor who pursues Rose across the countryside and an extra body that they must dispose of and things get a little complicated! It was rather a lot to cram into such a slim volume and, while I enjoyed Rose’s madcap adventures, Hasty Death was not really what I expected of the second book in the Edwardian Murder Mystery series.
After reading this book, I am not at all convinced that Cathcart and Rose will end up together. They are perfect for each other, but Rose is not convinced and keeps fighting with Cathcart over everything. A much more satisfactory romance is developing between Becket and Daisy, who will have to come up with some creative solutions to find a way for two servants to marry. Daisy cannot work as a lady’s maid after she is wed and Becket is hoping that Cathcart will offer him a full-time position as a fellow investigator rather than as a valet/butler. I am rooting for these two to get together and think they are absolutely adorable! I just wish that we got to learn more about Becket’s background. I know a great deal about Daisy, but next to nothing about Becket and it is most vexing. One of my favorite scenes takes place at the end of the book and it doesn’t feature any of the main characters. Instead, it shows the practicality of the villagers and the difficulty that the police force is facing during the early 1900s.
While the story is a bit far-fetched, Marion Chesney’s characters are delightful. She has a real talent for subtly influencing the reader so that we unconsciously love the “good” characters and jeer at the “villains” even before we know which side they are really on. If you are prepared to overlook a few far-fetched plot twists and are looking for a light-hearted historical romance with a touch of mystery, you will be sure to enjoy this series.
This book contains multiple murders, but there are no gruesome descriptions of the dead bodies. The main characters keep information from the police and actively cover up some crimes. Blackmail, breaking & entering and other crimes are committed. There is a mental institution that is briefly described, as well as some questionable medical practices. There are scenes of drinking and smoking. Discussions of extramarital affairs, mistresses, potential engagements and other romantic subplots are common. Nothing takes place between the two main characters beyond some embracing and kissing. There is some mild language, but it is in keeping with the historical setting and is not offensive. Recommended for ages 15 and up.