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By Rosemary Stevens
Berkley, May, 2000

Reviewed by J. Ashley (6/2000)

This book features Beau Brummell, Regency London's most famous man-about-town, and is set in 1805.

While perusing an art auction with an eye to purchasing a fine painting of a cat, George Bryan "Beau" Brummell witnesses an unfortunate scene when wealthy, mean-spirited Lady Wrayburn publically announces she will turn her companion, Miss Ashton, out of her house. The next morning, Brummell is waylaid in the midst of his careful daily routine by the Duchess of York, his dearest friend, who relates the news that Lady Wrayburn is dead--poisoned.

Miss Ashton is the obvious suspect, and the duchess of York begs Brummell to do all he can to help her. Brummell turns his talent for minute observation (usually reserved for the cut of breeches or the quality of fine food) to discover the truth. His investigation takes him from the heart of Mayfair to Oatlands, the Duke of York's country seat. Along the way, he patches up friendships, brings romances to their conclusion, makes a friendly rival of an emissary to the Siamese ambassador, and acquires a cat.

This book is lighthearted, with undertones of the darkness that lurked beneath glittering London society in the time of the Prince Regent. The author spends a little too much time setting up Brummell's character and his dandyish habits, but once the story truly begins, it is fast-paced and intriguing. Hopefully, as the series progresses, the reader won't need to be taken through Brummell's dressing routines and parade of minor characters to show the power he wielded. Perhaps for someone not as familiar with the Regency period as I am, the background is welcome, but the story did become much more enjoyable once it was out of the way.

However, Stevens shows a masterful depiction of character, both actual and fictional, and an ability to weave together many strings of a fast-moving plot. The tone of the story is lighter than the somber, deeply interwoven Julian Kestrel mysteries by the late great Kate Ross, but Stevens still shows us realistic glimpses of the underside of the Regency and brings about a satisfying conclusion.

This is the first book in the Beau Brummell mystery series. If this is a taste of things to come, I eagerly await the next installment.

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