4th in the Victorian/Edwardian Mystery series
Author: Robin Paige
ISBN: 0-425-16195-1 (Berkley)
Finished: 1 May 2007
Who: Sir Charles and Kathyrn Sheridan
When: September 1896 – Sir Charles and Lady Sheridan have been married 3 months (June ?). Lawerence and Amelia have been married 6 months (March ?). Ellie Farley had a son.
From the back: Together they solved the murders at the Countess of Warwick’s weekend house. . .and together they fell in love. Now newlyweds Charles and Kate Sheridan have moved into Kate’s ancestral Georgian home Bishop’s Keep, where Kate plans to devote herself to writing and Charles to the responsibilities of the landed gentry. He agrees to host an automobile exhibition and balloon race at Bishop’s Keep. But speed, competition, and money prove to be more explosive than gasoline.
The book opens with Bess Gurton nearly getting run over by an automobile. She’s an old friend of Mrs. Pratt, the cook at Bishop’s Keep, and she was on her way to visit Pratt to get an ingredient for her “flying potion”. On the road outside Bishop’s Keep, she stumbles across the body of Old Jessup. According to the surgeon and the coroner, Old Jessup died of natural causes brought on by his habits and was not run over by Bradford Marsden’s Daimler (driven by the Honorable Charles Rolls). However, the villagers believe he was either hit by the car or, at the very least, frightened to death by it.
It is established from the very first that Jessup’s death is not the primary mystery of this book. Most of the locals are not happy with the Bradford’s automobile show and balloon chase. The cars are noisy, go too fast, and upset the horses. The balloons cause major damage to property. Sabotage of one of the cars leads to the death of its driver. There are plenty of motives and suspects, and it’s up to Sir Charles to examine the crime scene for clues. He finds a partial fingerprint and an unusual grease stain. Using forensic techniques, he is able to identify the saboteur. However, for the local jury, his findings are too fantastic to grasp and the guilty party goes free.
The book is more about resistance to change as new inventions and ideas come to rural England then the mystery itself. The fingerprints, the way the grease was identified, Mrs. Pratt’s gas cooker, the automobiles, and even Patsy Marsden’s desire to travel the world as a photographer instead of marrying the man her mother has chosen for her are all changes that meet with resistance of some sort. Constable Larken makes the comment that one day “man may be condemned by the voice of his own blood.”
Kate learns that her identity as Beryl Bardwell is common, if unspoken, knowledge among her staff and friends. Charles has been busy introducing modern inventions to Bishop’s Keep. He even invites engineer Henry Royce to see his handiwork. Mr. Royce will one day form a business partnership with another guest, the Honorable Charles Rolls, but for the time being he’s more interested with Kate’s roses than automobiles.