Bella Wallis is a respectable society woman with a secret identity: in an office buried deep within the seedy backstreets of London, she writes sensationalist novels exposing the scoundrels that litter high society under the pen name Henry Ellis Margam.
So when a crested cigar case is found near the body of a murdered prostitute, Bella and her friends are determined to trace the murderer and write a mystery that will avenge the poor girl's untimely death. But the owner of the cigar case is a dangerous - and rich - man who has already destroyed the lives of others who have crossed him. Will Bella see justice done, or will she meet the same fate as so many of her characters...?
The Widow's Secret is the first in the Bella Wallis series of mysteries and takes us from London to Paris, from the highest of society to the lowest of the low. It is an entertaining, effervescent romp and a wonderful introduction to this most charismatic of heroines.
Thompson, the author of two memoirs (Keeping Mum and Clever Girl), fails to make the most of an intriguing concept in his first Victorian historical featuring Bella Wallis, a widow who writes sensational novels about "titled society whores" and "termagant foreigners" under the pseudonym Henry Ellis Magram. The murder of a London prostitute known as Welsh Alice, whose throat was slit, attracts Wallis's interest as a possible starting point for her next book. Her acquiring a cigar box bearing a family crest that was discovered near the streetwalker's body leads her to invert actual events and create a fiction in which the box's owner is the victim of foul play at the hands of a woman. Eventually, Wallis finds herself playing real-life sleuth to track down Welsh Alice's killer. Convincing background color isn't enough to compensate for the lackluster plot development.