REVIEW: For Deader or Worse by Sheri Cobb South
After a modest wedding ceremony, Bow Street Runner John Pickett and his bride Julia, the former Lady Fieldhurst, set out for a wedding trip to Somersetshire, where Pickett must face his greatest challenge yet: meeting his in-laws.
Sir Thaddeus and Lady Runyon are shocked at their daughter’s hasty remarriage—and appalled by her choice of a second husband. Pickett, for his part, is surprised to learn that Julia once had an elder sister: Claudia, Lady Buckleigh, disappeared thirteen years earlier, leaving no trace beyond a blood-soaked shawl. When Sir Thaddeus confides that his wife is convinced Claudia’s spirit now haunts her childhood home, Pickett sees a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of Julia’s family. He agrees to investigate and, hopefully, lay the Runyon “ghost,” whoever—or whatever—it is.
Matters take a grisly turn when Sir Thaddeus’s groom is discovered with his throat slit. The timing could hardly be worse, for the whole village is aflutter with the news that Lord Buckleigh has brought home a new bride, just when Major James Pennington, the vicar’s son who was Claudia’s childhood sweetheart, has returned on leave from war in the Peninsula. The major was apparently the last person to see Claudia alive, and Pickett is convinced he knows more about her disappearance than he’s telling. Suddenly it seems the distant past is not so distant, after all. It may not even be past . . .
Note: this is the sixth book in the series (along with some short stories and novellas) so spoilers are impossible to avoid.
Dear Ms. Cobb South,
You’ve done it to him this time. Poor John Pickett has faced danger and death as a Bow Street Runner/investigator on and in the mean streets and drawing rooms of Regency London but now he faces his greatest challenge: his new in-laws. To say he doesn’t get a warm welcome is an understatement. The looks of horror on the faces of the parents of his beloved wife Julia as well as the stunned guests of a dinner party of the local gentry (slightly) brought to mind the scene from “Blazing Saddles” when Sheriff Bart rides into town. However soon John will get a chance to save the day just as Bart did.
Okay so Julia’s stunned parents – oh, did she not tell John that she didn’t write them and inform them of her marriage? – don’t pull a pistol on their new son-in-law but a limburger fart en masse by the villagers during church would probably be better accepted. Julia, however, is staunch in her determination that John be treated with respect. After an initial misstep by her father when he asks what it will cost for John to “disappear” from his daughter’s life, Squire and Lady Runyon firmly affix their stiff upper lips and soldier on.
After a disastrous dinner party where John’s skills learned at the knee of his transported father are brought out – and quite a few men at the party, who wager on his abilities, pocket some easy cash – the odds of John and Julia being invited back for holidays at the old home place look grim. That is until murder rears its ugly head in bucolic Somersetshire.
By stepping in and volunteering to lead the investigation, John hopes to accomplish two things: seek justice for the deceased and earn a measure of approval from Julia’s parents. What neither he nor most of the residents of Norwood Green realize is that an old wrong is about to be righted and Lady Runyon might have an even greater scandal in her family.
John is smart and utterly devoted to his lady.
At the sight of her, all his misgivings fell away. He was the luckiest man in the world, and it was a wise man who did not question his good fortune, however undeserving of it he knew himself to be.
He’s also shrewd enough and has studied the Quality long enough to know not to toady or try and ingratiate himself. I love that he wins everyone’s respect by being himself and holding to his code of honor. Even Julia might grumble a little at the fact that she can’t sway him from the course he believes to be the best pursuit of justice but she’s honest enough with herself to admit that she prefers him this way.
The motive for the murder makes sense and the way the clues are uncovered – yay, Julia assists in this and John is proud of her! – is natural. John is, after all, one of the best at his job as several persons doing various things soon discover. Just as it looks like the villain might escape scot free, ultimate desserts are served up from an unlikely but also believable source.
Respect earned, justice rendered, and family harmony restored, John and Julia are headed back to London and their new married life. Will something happen that I hope will happen? Hmmm, we’ll have to wait for the next book – yippie – to see. A-
In the meantime, while we wait on book seven, I enjoyed this free little short story treat.