An attempt at matchmaking takes a wrong turn into murder.
Emily, Lady Dunnington, thinks her widowed friend Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, needs a lover. It’s dull in town, the season is over, and so Lady Dunnington invites a quintet of candidates to a dinner party at which she and Lady Fieldhurst are the only women. Lady Dunnington lives apart from her husband and thinks she can do just as she wants, including setting her own sights on the disreputable but handsome Lord Rupert Latham, with whom Lady Fieldhurst once attempted an assignation. Lord Dunnington’s arrival in the middle of the party doesn’t exactly inspire romance, and the five gentlemen invited find excuses to leave before they can partake of their port. Lord Rupert doesn’t go far: someone shoots him in the chest and tosses the pistol away. Although Lady Fieldhurst is shocked at his death, she admits to herself that she’s relieved. She’s already lost her heart, though to a most unsuitable man, the Bow Street Runner John Pickett, who helped her escape hanging for her late husband’s murder. To her dismay, he’s assigned to the case of the murdered Lord Rupert. His dismay is even greater; he has to find a way to reveal that, thanks to a peculiarity of Scottish law, he and Lady Fieldhurst are accidentally married. While he interviews the dinner guests, each of whom had a reason to hate Lord Rupert, Pickett faces the prospect of a humiliating means of annulling his marriage to Lady Fieldhurst, though each secretly wishes it could be otherwise. In fact, the greatest suspense here is whether Pickett will overcome his diffidence and Lady Fieldhurst her pride or whether the contrived variation on that Regency wheeze, the marriage in name only, will drag on into a sequel.
Despite South’s blithe disregard of social customs of Jane Austen’s era, this fourth frothy whodunit for Pickett (Family Plot, 2014, etc.) has a satisfying surprise or two and a duo who really are made for each other.