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At your service, milady...
Eager to escape London following the scandal of her husband's death, beautiful Lady Fieldhurst accepts an invitation to spend the summer in rural Yorkshire at the home of Sir Gerald and Lady Hollingshead. She soon discovers, however, that country life is not the panacea she imagined: tension reigns and tempers flare at Hollingshead Place, due in large part to Lady Hollingshead's ambitions for her daughter Emma, a lovely young lady destined for a brilliant marriage in spite of her love for a penniless curate.
When a dinner party ends with the death of the vicar--a kindly old soul whose only sin appears to be the authorship of a dull local history--Lady Fieldhurst suspects foul play and sends for Bow Street Runner John Pickett, with one stipulation: since she is the guest of the Hollingsheads, Pickett must keep his connection to Bow Street a secret.
Pickett obliges by presenting himself as Lady Fieldhurst's footman, complete with livery and powdered hair. But he soon has his white-gloved hands full sifting through old secrets, uncovering hidden passions, and dealing with a demanding housekeeper--not to mention avoiding the younger daughter of the house, a precocious fourteen-year-old with a schoolgirl tendre for the faux footman. Then there is the problem of Lady Fieldhurst herself, at once an able assistant and an all too pleasant distraction.
In South's delightful second Regency mystery (after 2006's In Milady's Chamber), recently widowed Lady Julia Fieldhurst decides to leave London and spend the summer in Yorkshire with Sir Gerald and Lady Anne Hollingshead, largely to avoid gossip surrounding her husband's murder. Alas, tragedy strikes shortly after Julia arrives at Hollingshead Place. The local vicar, Mr. Danvers, who regales the family over dinner with talk of his almost completed book on the history of the village, dies later that night in a fire at the vicarage. Julia writes to Bow Street runner John Pickett in London for help in investigating what may be a crime. Pickett poses as Julia's footman, allowing the reader a view of what goes on downstairs as well as up. Tension between the eldest Hollingshead daughter and her parents over her love for a poor curate as well as the growing attraction between Julia and Pickett lend romantic interest. The manners and mores of the period as South depicts them ring true.