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By R. T. Raichev

Soho Constable, 2008 ($24.95)
ISBN-10: 1569475059
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-505-8 (U.S.)

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

The subtitle for this novel is a "country house crime," and I expected it to be an homage to the classics of the Golden age, akin to Christie and Sayers. It is, to a point. The ingredients are all there, eccentric characters with odd habits, priests with secret vices, crumbling Victorian mansions, perky amateur sleuths, secrets from the distant past leading to crime in the present day, wealthy, curmudgeonly old men and their morally bankrupt would-be heirs...

Antonia Darcy, author of a popular mystery series, is used to fending off over-eager fans, but when quirky Beatrice Ardleigh invites her to have tea after a book signing, she agrees. Beatrice and her odd companion, Ingrid, might just make good characters in a future book.

Ralph Renshawe is the new master of Ospreys, the requisite crumbling mansion. He has one potential heir, Robin, whom he considers "morally bankrupt." Ralph has been stricken with cancer, and spends a lot of time talking to a Catholic priest with a gambling habit to support. The secret from the past is that several years ago, while driving with his fiancée, he caused a terrible accident that crippled Beatrice and caused the woman in the other car to lose her baby. He was drunk at the time, and he headed for the hills, leaving poor Beatrice to cope alone. Now he’s back, and he writes to Bea asking for forgiveness. For some reason Bea writes in turn to Antonia, and asks her and her husband, comically called "Major Paine," to come and visit her and advise her on what to do. They agree, having prior "private investigator" experience. The Major says this is the most interesting case they’ve had, an "irresistible mixture of the absurd, the inexplicable and the menacing."

The author did a good job of incorporating all the elements of the classical Golden Age story, but I had trouble finding anything to like in any of the characters. Bea, who must surely be in her 50’s according to the timetable of the story, seems an unlikely femme fatale. And why on earth did she decide to marry a man who had stalked her for years? Ingrid is just nasty, Robin is a cartoon cutout, but the priest is kind of interesting. There was too little detail on the protagonists, Antonia and her husband, who, it seems, have an interesting back story. I would have liked to know more about them, as they were the only likable characters in the book.

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