A shooting party at the Earl of Witton's remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Merton—until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour.
That's not Pat's biggest problem. She's visiting her old friend, the Earl's heir Jimmy Yoxall—but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy's fiancée. The irrepressible Miss Fenella Carruth, with her laughing eyes and lush curves, is the most glorious woman Pat's ever met, and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm's length.
But while the women's attraction grows, the tensions at Rodington Court get worse. Affairs, secrets, betrayals, and blackmail come to light. And when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulderblades, it's going to take Pat and Fen's combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives.
A near-perfect romantic murder mystery
This Edwardian country-house murder mystery follows the usual script of assembling an odd assortment of family, friends, and what-the-heck-are-they-doing-here characters, identifies certain characters (ideally more than one) as worthy of murder, establishes murderous motivations for most of the cast, with a handy storm to pen everyone in at the crisis. The mystery here is solid and even--if you haven’t read the book this is a prequel to--carries just enough doubt regarding the motivations and guilt of some of the more likeable characters to keep one on edge. If the primary viewpoint character--a Ladies Shooting Champion--were not our window on events, she’d be one of the prime suspects, simply on the grounds of no-nonsense efficiency.
The primary set-up, of course, is not so much the murder but the romance that develops in its shadows. Pat realizes she’s falling in love with her best friend’s apparently air-headed fiancée, though the engagement is dispensed with quickly enough that she’s never faced with serious ethical conflicts over it. Instead, the moral conflict is over how to handle the possibility that either her brother Bill or Bill’s male lover committed the murder in reaction to blackmail over that relationship.
Charles deftly lays out the contrasting experiences of men and women in same-sex relationships at the time: men’s relationships being criminalized and exactly the sort of thing one might murder to conceal, and women’s relationships being considered of little importance and not the sort of thing anyone was expected to organize her life plans around.
The development of Pat and Fenella’s relationship from wary companionship to attraction to “gosh, in the wake of murder we all need to stick together to protect each other so of course we should move into the same bedroom” proceeds apace, following the needs of the compressed structure of the story. (OK, so it all felt very rushed to me, but for at least one of them it wasn’t her first rodeo, so I’m willing to allow the benefit of the doubt for allosexual impulsiveness.)
If you like cozy mysteries and enjoy your romances to be layered with regular explicit sex scenes, this should be just up your alley.