As England recovers from its costly involvement in the Great War, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, find the steady comforts of their lives unsettled by a local case of murder . . .
Eva is excited for a visit from her sister Alice, who lives in Suffolk with her husband and three children. But when Alice arrives alone, desiring a break from her family, Eva becomes concerned. Her dismay deepens as Alice starts spending time with a former beau, Keenan Ripley, who owns the nearby pear orchard. At the same time, Phoebe's sister Julia, now a widow and pregnant, is in a fretful state, and Phoebe struggles to be helpful to her.
When Keenan's brother Stephen, the new head gardener at the Renshaw estate, Foxwood Hall, is found impaled by a pair of hedge clippers, the police—including Eva's beau, Constable Miles Brannock—suspect his closest kin. Stephen had been eager to sell their orchard to an American developer, but Keenan had fiercely resisted. A table set with two teacups and scones suggests Keenan had company the morning of the murder—and Eva fears her sister was with him.
If Alice were to provide Keenan with an alibi, her reputation and marriage would be ruined. She denies being there but is clearly withholding secrets, much to Eva's consternation. Now, to protect her sister, Eva and Phoebe set off to expose the gardener's real killer, putting their own lives at risk . . .
Early in Maxwell's appealing fifth a Lady and a Lady's Maid mystery set in post-WWI England (after 2019's A Murderous Marriage), maid Eva Huntford and her employer, Lady Phoebe Renshaw, are disturbed to hear that a brash American, Horace Walker, wants to buy the struggling orchard of Cotswolds resident Keenan Ripley and level it to build a resort on the site. Keenan's ne'er-do-well brother, Stephen, is abetting Horace in this scheme. The locals value the product of Keenan's pear crop perry, a type of hard cider and view Horace as an interloper. When Lady Phoebe finds Stephen murdered with a pair of hedge clippers, Keenan is arrested. Eva worries that her married sister, Alice, a former sweetheart of Keenan, may be involved, and Lady Phoebe worries about the disappearance of a servant and the toll of the crime on her infirm grandfather, the Earl of Wroxly. Eva and Lady Phoebe provide smart sleuthing and insight into the upstairs and downstairs worlds. Fans of traditional English mysteries will be rewarded.