In the English village of Kurland St. Mary, few things are worse than having one’s reputation besmirched. A struggling marriage is one. Murder is another . . .
Three years have passed since Major Sir Robert Kurland and Lucy Harrington, the rector's daughter, became husband and wife. Having established a measure of contentment among the local gentry, the couple lately have found an unsettling distance grown between them. But when the small-village peace is disrupted by an anonymous letter accusing Lucy of witchcraft, her as yet unfulfilled desire to be a mother becomes the least of her worries, especially after she learns she is not the only one to have received such a malicious letter.
Speculation only escalates when the village schoolteacher, Miss Broomfield, is discovered murdered at her classroom desk. Was the unlikeable teacher the letter writer, and if so, who killed her and why? Despite her husband’s objections, Lucy offers to help out at the school until a replacement can be found, hoping the children might inadvertently reveal a clue, but by doing so she may be putting her own life at risk . . .
Set in 1820, Lloyd's enjoyable fifth Kurland St. Mary mystery (after 2016's Death Comes to the Fair) opens with Maj. Sir Robert Kurland and his wife of three years, Lucy, preparing Kurland Hall for Christmas. Depressed from a recent miscarriage, Lucy is dismayed to receive a venomous poison-pen note predicting that she will die alone and childless and to learn that others are receiving similar notes. Further unpleasantness ensues. Soon after Lucy meets Martha Broomfield, the cruel mistress of the village school she and her husband have endowed, Miss Broomfield is found dead at her desk, stabbed through the eye with a quill pen. In her effort to learn more about the victim, Lucy contacts the schoolmistress's former employer and discovers a cache of costly jewelry and a mysterious key in Miss Broomfield's quarters that suggest possible motives, but she remains unsure whether the murder and the poison-pen letters are linked. The liveliness of Lloyd's many secondary characters and the marital tensions arising from Lucy's fertility woes add richness to the well-plotted puzzle.