A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey
Lady Emily Hardcastle and her associate Florence Armstrong have had an exciting past which this funny and well written book merely hints at throughout. In this first volume in the series of murder mysteries set in the early part of the twentieth century, the two women have just arrived in the countryside, keen to experience a quieter life. Florence is officially Lady Castle’s maid, and she has organised a suitable amount of food and supplies for their arrival, but beyond her domestic duties she is also an expert in martial arts and well able to blend in with the staff of any establishment. The two women find themselves getting involved in local life, and death, at top speed,and this develops into a cosy crime experience unlike any other. This book revels in the relationship between the two women, as they sometimes opt to appear mistress and maid, before indulging in friendly insults. Kinsey has created two characters that really entertain, and a cunning mystery or two as well. I enjoyed how Florence deals with those who annoy her, and her general resourcefulness. This is an excellent read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It is when Lady Emily and Florence are walking one morning that they find the body of a young man hanging in a wood. The immediate reaction from the local police is that it was suicide, but the two women are not convinced. Lady Emily soon receives invitations to the houses of the local gentry, especially when they are vaguely connected from previous times. They soon find out some of the local gossip from both above and below stairs, as Florence gives a hand in with the servants, and Lady Emily behaves reasonably well with the upstairs family. They are invited to a party to celebrate an engagement between two of the local houses, and as Lady Emily gathers an audience of admirers, Florence is able to move around the house and find out what is really going on. A band playing popular music proves popular, but it is the following morning that the police disturb Lady Emily’s somewhat fragile state with a need for help. They soon inveigle their way into the investigation, and encounter the very able Inspector Sunderland. Florence is on top form when dealing with an unwanted advance, and thinks creatively.
This book is possibly not the most historically accurate murder mystery, and the women acknowledge within it that their relationship is unusual, to say the least. It emerges that Lady Emily has made quite a study of investigating crime using crime boards. As people are less likely to suspect that two admittedly eccentric women are properly investigating, they learnt the most significant things from gossip and those eager to talk. I really enjoyed their encounters with one or two of the local gentry, and some of the characters who attend the party. Recognised as useful for off the record investigation, there is obviously much more to discover about this remarkable pair. As hinted at by Inspector Sunderland, the area in which Lady Emily and Florence have decided to live is a particular hot spot for crime, and consequently there are more novels in the series to come!