When the suffragette movement is bequeathed a valuable painting by campaigner Philomena Venn, suffragette and amateur sleuth Nell Bray agrees to retrieve it. The plan is simple: Collect the picture from Philomena's widower, Oliver, take it to Christie's, and sell it to raise much-needed funds. But Nell is in for a surprise when she returns from the Vennes' home in the Cotswolds: The painting he has given her is a fake!
When Oliver refuses to hand over the real painting, his son, political activist Daniel Venn, suggests an alternative plan to Nell: Why doesn't she break into the house and switch the paintings? Against her better judgment she agrees, and in the process she uncovers a far more serious crime---a brutal murder in which she is now personally embroiled. . . .
Once again, Gillian Linscott guides her delightfully starchy heroine through the politics, personalities, and perils of early twentieth-century England.
British author Linscott's solid historical series (Dead Man Riding, etc.) seldom portrays English suffragette Nell Bray breaking the law, even when the law is wrong, but at the start of this nifty tale of love, deceit and socialism, Nell finds herself explaining to a constable that she entered wealthy widower Oliver Venn's country house in the middle of the night "to steal a picture." She just so happened to stumble on a corpse while doing so. The late Philomena Venn bequeathed to the Women's Social and Political Union a valuable French painting, a less famous version of Boucher's La Blonde Odalisque at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. She also left a bereaved husband, a niece who makes and sells handcrafted furniture and a nephew who collects and preserves folk music, in addition to a legacy of socialist activism involving a Fabian splinter group, the Scipians. When Bray's initial foray to claim the Odalisque musters only a forgery, she must return to sort things out and ends up trying to aid a man engaged to two women simultaneously. The author's adept characterizations and understated use of the mores, customs, fads and manners of early 20th-century Britain make for an engrossing combination. Add to that a murder that appears both cruel and senseless, a suitably suspenseful chase and a highly satisfactory denouement, and one has another first-rate entertainment. FYI:Linscott's eighth Nell Bray novel, Absent Friends, won the 2000 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.