I got this one cheap from Mystery Guild mostly because I like historical mysteries and usually they’re Victorian era. This is a few decades later right around the turn of the century so that interested me. However, the construction of the book was a bit off in places. There were five books and it’s not really a mystery until book three, about the halfway mark.
Book one is more about Grace, a young lady of the scant middle class who has just broken her engagement to go be the personal secretary of Edwina Martagon, a wealthy widow of an art impresario who recently committed suicide. She will also be caring for his sixteen year old daughter, Dulcie who wants to be an artist against her mother’s wishes. Also in the picture is Guy, Eliot Martagon’s son returned to take over the house and doesn’t quite believe his father committed suicide. Another suicide quickly mars her time in London as Theo Benton, the artist son of another of London’s wealthy elite, jumps from his studio loft and is impaled by the iron fencing. It’s at this point that Detective Lamb and his sergeant Cogan and they suspect Theo’s death is no suicide. We finally have a mystery, over 100 pages in.
But before that’s investigated book two starts in Vienna with the life and times of Isobel Amberley. We see her childhood and marriage in fast forward then slows down when we get to her apartment after her husband dies. It’s in a building where two artist brothers, Bruno and Viktor Franck. They are also possible revolutionaries and it’s like hmmm maybe this is what followed Theo Benton back to London. Truthfully, this was a slog to get through. I wasn’t interested in Isobel and this seemed to take us away from the mystery for too long but you had to think it was involved in the mystery.
Book three is the bulk of the investigation and Grace suddenly becomes a secondary character to Guy. While Lamb is investigating the deaths, Guy and Grace become aware that Edwina is being blackmailed by someone who has something damning of her late husband. Edwina is sure that her former secretary, a Russian woman, Miss Dart, is to blame, unaware that her daughter, Dulcie is still friends with the woman. Lamb, on the other hand, begins to think that Eliot and Theo’s death were only meant to look like suicides and are both linked murders. Isobel is now in London as well and is living in fear of Viktor and is being looked out for by Julian Carrington, a friend of hers and Eliot’s.
Book four takes us back to Vienna and Isobel’s past life. This time it’s much better paced and the picture begins to emerge. By the time book five rolls around there are only a few candidates for the murder and even at that it feels more like you didn’t have all the information to solve it. (I figured out the who but not the why). Overall, it’s well written but a bit slow in spots. I liked Lamb but this was barely only half his book. I think this is a rarity in mysteries these days, a one off (I could be wrong about that but Lamb did not feel like the central character. There really wasn’t one).