MINI-REVIEW: Dianne Freeman’s A LADY’S GUIDE TO GOSSIP AND MURDER

Lady's_Guide_Gossip_MurderThough I’m no fan of the new stylized covers, Freeman’s Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder WAS pink and I love pink as much as a murder mystery set in late Victorian times among the aristocratic and privileged. If only there’d been a murder at Downton … (well, there was, but it was in a hotel room). I thought Freeman’s plot convoluted, but I wanted to find another historical murder mystery series to follow, as if I didn’t already have quite a few.

Ah, the complicated plotting: young,  widowed, single mother, Lady Harleigh, American Frances Price by birth, aristocratic British by marriage of convenience, much like Lady Grantham, is our amateur sleuth. When the novel opens, we learn Frances has refused marriage to her charming neighbour and partner in sleuthing (does he work for the Home Office?), George Hazelton. Frances lives with Rose, her seven-year-old daughter; recently affianced sister, Lily; Aunt Hetty, and the comic-relief, klutzy, American heiress, Charlotte Deaver (left to Frances’s care by her globe-trotting, toy-boy-collecting mother). Frances has a lively social life, now she’s out of mourning, and a wide circle of friends, one of whom is Charles Evingdon, a harmless, handsome, air-headed aristocrat. Frances has tried to set Charles up with one of her friends, Mary Archer. Sadly, Mary is murdered and Charles is implicated. With George’s help, Frances extricates Charles from the police. However, as she, George, and their coterie of friends, including Charles, learn more about Mary Archer, things are curiouser and curiouser.   

Like Frances, Mary is a widow, but one of greatly straitened financial circumstances. Mary’s widow’s weeds and circumspect life reveal themselves to be anything but to Frances and George. They discover that Mary was a collector of from potentially embarrassing to surely illegal secrets on the part of many in English high society. How was Mary going to use this information and who might kill her to prevent her from exposing them? George and Frances, Charles and Charlotte, as well as Inspector Delaney work together and apart to find how Mary’s secrets, personal and in her possession, led to her demise.

Freeman’s Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder had the accoutrements to make me love it. An 1899 setting, practically Downton (yes, I was an unabashed fan-girl), a potential romance in Frances and George, English setting, aristocratic antics, comeuppances, and a modicum of Frances-George banter. It was, however, so very very plotty, to the detriment of my feeling any sympathy, or liking for the characters. Not that I disliked them; they were flat. And yet, there were moments when Frances’s connection to the RIP Mary, as a fellow widow who has to make her way in the world, was expressed with elegance and sympathy. Take for example, Frances’s comment about how Mary chose to make a living: “A woman would give a great deal for that sense of independence and self-sufficiency. Mary chose a way to support herself by making use of her skills … I might not approve, but I certainly understood. And I was in no position to condemn.” I wish there was MORE of George and Frances and more of these moments of connection and introspection. That being said, if you love a plotty murder mystery, smoothly, though not charmingly written, this may be the novel for you. I will, however, pass on any others in future. With Miss Austen, we say A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder offers “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.

Dianne Freeman’s A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder is published by Kensington Books. It was released on June 25 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Kensington Books, via Netgalley.

14 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Dianne Freeman’s A LADY’S GUIDE TO GOSSIP AND MURDER

  1. I’m addicted to historical mysteries to be honest. Give me a little mystery (or a heaping helping for that matter), a dastardly murder or two, a dash of romance and a dollop of history/historical setting and I’m in a very HAPPY PLACE. Tea and biscuits on the side, of course. 😉

    I’ve started the St Cyr mysteries (on #3 btw) and cannot thank you enough for bringing these to my attention! Totally hooked after the first one, but you knew I would be O Wise Reading Swami.

    I wonder if you’ve tried Catherine Lloyd ‘Kurland St. Mary’ historical mystery series. I’ve only read Death Comes to Bath (not the first in the series) which I really enjoyed and is yet another series I’m on the hunt to fill in the gaps. Really love the husband and wife Regency detective pairing and that it seems to follow the trajectory of this couple’s romance, marriage, building a future and family all the while solving murders. Plus there’s a subplot for other colorful assorted family members/friends who pop in to add to the narrative and seem to help solve the mystery.

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    • I know, I love them too. There’s something about that combination that makes it so my cuppa with a cuppa. 😉

      There were some marvelous moments of connection between George and Frances that said this series could go places for me, but ultimately, as I said in my review, too plotty for me. This is why I LOVE, ADORE, and WORSHIP the St. Cyrs, b/c Harris gets the entire combo right. I also think that the Seb, unlike the peevish Frances, is such a flawed but deeply moral characters. I don’t think Frances is immoral, only that she’s in it more for the puzzle-solving. Unlike George: I think George is the more successful character, but we see Frances in action mainly, as she’s our main-y.

      I’m THRILLED you love the St. Cyrs and I can assure you that, post-book-3, they will only get better!!!!!

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  2. Though I know this is not the main point of your review… I ALSO am not a fan of the new stylized covers that are so popular these days! They feel super infantalizing to me somehow, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. (Also, since I read so much romance… I just want clinch covers.)

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    • It’s really okay that it’s not the main point! Yup, there IS something infantile about them, cartoonish and not in a good way, not to diss cartoons, and also somehow, kind of cheap. Like can’t you get some models and pose them. I love clinch covers too, almost as much as I love vintage category ones.

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  3. I actually don’t hate the illustration on that cover but that font… I have no words for how terrible that typography is. None. Why don’t cover designers pay attention to the whole cover?!!!

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    • Yes, I agree, it’s about layout and overall aesthetic. I’m going to put on my feral-fogey glasses and say, with computer generated imagery, things have gone downhill cover-wise.

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  4. This one sounds like it’s at least worth borrowing from the library, if not buying. I am also always looking for a new historical mystery series, since the St. Cyr books only come out once a year. I recently finished Lady Darby mystery #3(A Grave Matter), and #4 is on my nightstand. I am enjoying the way the relationship between Lady Darby and Gage is heating up, but there is something sort of depressive about that series. No humor at all. Have you tried the first Rosalind Thorne mystery, “A Useful Woman”? Another one with a stylized cover. I thought it was just OK, and I wanted to see more of the love interest, a Bow Street runner, but so far I haven’t continued. I really like Jennifer Ashley’s Kat Holloway mysteries, but they’re so expensive, and my library doesn’t have them.

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    • Yes, I agree about the Hubers, Lady Darby that is: I found her writing strangely flat. And as you said, humourless. I adore the Kat Holloways: oh, I do hope your library gets them. Can you request? Sometimes, they’ll get a book if you ask for it.

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  5. Try interlibrary loan. I’m currently using that to work through a backlist of books that are too expensive to buy and not in my library system. It takes awhile to get an individual book so you don’t want to ask for book 2 and 3 from the same series as you don’t know when or which book will reach you first… Most libraries participate in some kind of interlibrary loan program these days.

    Kat Holloway mysteries are delightful.

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  6. I’ve just started the first in this series (same hideous cover art/font) and I’m enjoying it. I like the author’s voice and our main character. I don’t mind a convoluted plot–so I may have found another series to fill the time between CS Harris books.

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      • I’m just about finished with book 1–I like Frances and George, Aunt Hetty, sister Lily and darling Rose and even Inspector Delaney. While I wouldn’t call them flat, neither are any of them fully fleshed out characters. But there’s very little sparkle or wit. Bummer.
        I will read number 2, because it is available, but I am probably not going to like it anymore than you did.

        And I had high hopes for this series, as you can tell from my first comment.

        I should have judged this book by its cover, sad to say…

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        • Judged by its awful cover, LOL! Yes. I agree, though, I didn’t dislike it, but it did fall flat in a way that, for example, Ashley’s Kat Holloway characters don’t. I love them, I care about them. I found Frances peevish, but I did like George. As for C. S. Harris, there’s really NOTHING like her for a great historical murder mystery series. And her characters are in your head and heart from book to book and in between.

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