A Sinister Service
A trip to Staffordshire for Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, leads to murder in a famed pottery works . . .
Following the devastation of the Great War, England's noble class takes comfort in honoring tradition. To celebrate their grandparents' wedding anniversary, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her siblings travel to Staffordshire to commission a china service bearing the Wroxly coat of arms from the venerated Crown Lily Potteries, a favorite of Queen Mary.
The two leading designers at the illustrious china manufacturer offer competing patterns. But when one of them is found dead—his body crushed in a grinding pan and his design pattern book missing—his rival is immediately suspected. The police are also suspicious of the dead designer's resentful young son, a schoolmate of Phoebe's fifteen-year-old brother Fox. When Fox gets involved to help his friend, Phoebe begins to investigate the rival artist.
At the same time, Eva is enlisted to go undercover at the works so she can gain the confidence of the female employees, who are only allowed to paint, not design, which may have led to a grudge against the victim. Pursuing a killer who has no compunction about using a kiln as a coffin, Phoebe and Eva take their lives into their hands to discover the shattering truth . . .
Set in 1920, Maxwell's enjoyable sixth a Lady and a Lady's Maid mystery (after 2020's A Silent Stabbing) takes Lady Phoebe Renshaw, her three siblings, and her maid, Eva Huntford, to Staffordshire, the hub of England's thriving porcelain trade. Phoebe and her siblings are visiting the prestigious Crown Lily factory to commission a tea set for their grandparents' anniversary when the company's head designer, Ronald Mercer, is found dead in a grinder. The murder gains personal significance for the Renshaws with the arrest of Mercer's son, who was at Eton with Phoebe's brother, until the boy's father forced him to withdraw and learn the pottery trade. Another suspect is Percy Bateman, Lily's junior designer, who coveted the victim's position. As part of the sleuthing effort, Eva becomes a part-time apprentice to Lily's head of china painting, Moira Wickham, who resented Mercer's refusal to let a woman design. Distinctive characters complement the well-crafted plot. Maxwell brings the era's class and gender constraints to life in this intelligent historical.