Allison Montclair returns with the fourth Sparks & Bainbridge mystery, The Unkept Woman: London, 1946, Miss Iris Sparks--currently co-proprietor of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau--has to deal with aspects of her past exploits during the recent war that have come back around to haunt her.
The Right Sort Marriage Bureau was founded in 1946 by two disparate individuals - Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge (whose husband was killed in the recent World War) and Miss Iris Sparks who worked as an intelligence agent during the recent conflict, though this is not discussed. While the agency flourishes in the post-war climate, both founders have to deal with some of the fallout that conflict created in their personal lives. Miss Sparks finds herself followed, then approached, by a young woman who has a very personal connection to a former paramour of Sparks. But something is amiss and it seems that Iris's past may well cause something far more deadly than mere disruption in her personal life. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn is struggling to regain full legal control of her life, her finances, and her son - a legal path strewn with traps and pitfalls.
Together these indomitable two are determined and capable and not just of making the perfect marriage match.
The friendship of Gwen Bainbridge and Iris Sparks, the "intelligent and resourceful" owners of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau, is tested in Montclair's exemplary fourth mystery set in post-WWII London (after 2021's A Rogue's Company). When someone is shot to death in Iris's flat, where an ex-boyfriend of hers has been living as a renter, Iris's ability to be fully frank with Scotland Yard is limited by the connection of the victim to her previous life as a British intelligence operative. Iris decides to investigate on her own and asks Gwen to help search for the killer. The case comes at a fraught time for Gwen, who attempted suicide in 1944 after learning her husband was killed in battle; she was subsequently institutionalized in an asylum. Gwen is in the process of petitioning to end the guardianship controlling her life, which could be jeopardized if she once again probes a murder. The solution to the crime is both surprising and fair to the careful reader. Montclair's capable, funny, and fully developed leads set a gold standard for the amateur sleuth subgenre. Dorothy Sayers's fans will hope this series has a long run.