The London Blitz makes an almost perfect coverup for murder in this labyrinthine mystery.
Diving out of a London townhouse after German bombs hit it during World War II, Rose Alyn looks back to see her cousin Rosalee racing for the door. She nearly makes it before a masked figure looms and clubs her to death. Motives abound. The newly minted widow of wealthy industrialist Claude van Arthur, Rosalee was gorgeous, selfish and cruel, an odious woman who made her servants give up their dairy rations for her milk bath. Plenty of relatives wanted her dead so they could get their hands on the van Arthur fortune, including a sister-in-law who pestered her with obscene phone calls and a brother-in-law who needed her cash to get out of an embezzlement charge. But a surprise will puts Rosalee and Claude’s entire estate in Rose’s hands. While she tries to solve the murder, she’s also in charge of administering the finances of the people who probably killed her cousin–and may try to kill her. This is a very British mystery–Rose and her Scotland Yard bodyguard Lucas spend lots of time in icily civil drawing-room interrogations, and the main occupation of most characters is the desperate jockeying for inheritances. Valberde tells the story at a luxuriant pace, and in building a sense of social milieu and physical setting, the author lingers over the niceties of trusts and estate planning and steeps readers in the details of country-house dÃ©cor. The novel is also serious meditation on the corrupting power of beauty–as plain Rose takes over Rosalee’s position, the author makes her responsibility and usefulness a mirror image of her cousin’s glittering parasitism, a distinction that’s not lost on an RAF pilot Rose becomes entangled with. Valberde’s prose is subtle, perceptive and alive to psychological nuance. It turns an investigation of a woman’s death into a searching examination of her life.
A richly textured, thoughtful whodunit with a moral bite.