The place once again is England, but the time is the early 1900s, before Curzon’s series detective Mike Yeadings (Close Quarters, 1997, etc.) was born. Eugenie, Viscontess Crowthorne, the wife of Lord Sedgwick’s son Laurence (and until recently the long-time hired companion of Lord Sedgwick’s widowed daughter, Lady Isabelle Delmayne), opens her narrative with a family dinner at the opulent country estate. The gathering is interrupted by the arrival of a policeman seeking information about the apparent murder of a stranger, thought to be Italian, whose body has been found in the river nearby. In flashback, Eugenie reviews the past years—her arrival in the household fresh from her school graduation; her Grand Tours with Isabelle; the birth, in Italy, of Isabelle’s daughter Lucy, much too long after her husband’s death not to cause gossip; the elaborate deceptions used to mark Eugenie as the child’s mother; her own romantic involvement with a handsome soldier, and her mounting sense of Isabelle’s evil intentions toward her. Back in the present, the police have ferreted out a connection between the Sedgwick family and the dead stranger that brings the story to a surprising conclusion.
Fresh, innovative, and compelling from start to finish: one of this prolific author’s finest efforts.