Miss Prudence Pinsent, daughter of the master of Prince’s College at Cambridge, epitomizes her time and place in this first mystery by Jane Austen’s great-great-niece, originally published in 1931 and now reissued for the first time.
Prudence has tea with the faculty wives and serves as hostess when her father entertains the Cambridge dons, but she’s far too fond of her independence to marry. When the college fellows become too tiresome, she heads to Wellende Hall, where her cousin Ben, Lord Wellende, lives for hunting and sport. On her way to Suffolk, she stops for lunch at a country inn, where she spots Harry Studde, an old childhood friend. Capt. Studde is now an Inspector of the Coast Watchers, and in this capacity he’s noticed clear signs of smuggling through Wellende Hall. The family and their tenants have been smugglers for centuries—a boat can run from the coast up the river right into the cellars of Wellende Hall—but this smuggling is nastier stuff: an addictive new drug known only as X.Y.X. What’s worse is that someone in Cambridge is distributing the drug throughout the country. How many of Prudence’s family and friends may be caught up in this wretched business? While the mystery is slight, the vivid evocation of a fox hunt, the disconcertingly pre-feminist courtship, and the placid conviction that blood will tell make for fascinating period detail of a world mystery lovers all too often see only through the lens of imaginative hindsight.
Recommended to all mystery fans.