Prolific period-mystery writer Perry (Seven Dials, 2002, etc.) arranges some stately murders in golden Cambridge in the last exquisitely beautiful days before the Great War.
It all has to do with treachery at the Highest Levels. John and Alys Reavley, he a former MP and she the wise manager of a comfortable domestic paradise, devoted parents of four, have died a terrible death in the crash of their beautiful, powerful, yellow Lanchester automobile. The deaths are a terrible shock to their already terribly shocked (he’s a brooding widower) oldest son Joseph, but to younger son Matthew, an agent of one of His Majesty’s secret services, the accident may be proof that their father’s portentous final phone call boded real danger. The late Mr. Reavley told Matthew that he held proof of treachery and deceit reaching to the highest levels of society and threatening to stain the Nation’s Honor. Indeed, when the bereft brothers look closer than the local constabulary did at the scene of the accident, it is obvious that the deaths were executions. Matthew knows he must dig for the truth, but the incriminating paper his father was going to show him is nowhere to be found, and since no names were mentioned, Matthew has no idea who in authority to trust. With Matthew burrowing away in London, Joseph becomes enmeshed in mysteries surrounding the death of one of his Cambridge protégés, the great beauty and budding poet Sebastian Allard. Joseph senses that Sebastian’s fatal bullet had something to do with the lad’s racking angst over the possibility of war on the continent. Joseph’s sleuthing becomes quite as absorbing as Matthew’s, and more so as threads of scandal involving adultery, cheating, cowardice, pacifism, and other beastly behaviors become entangled. Oh, and there’s a lower-class but clever detective looking into all this at the same time.
Merchant/Ivory fans, Elgar devotees, Upstairs Downstairs freaks, and Galsworthy maniacs will wallow. Others may find it all a bit too stately.