REVIEW: Nobody’s Sweetheart Now by Maggie Robinson
A delightful English cozy series begins in August 1924. Lady Adelaide Compton has recently (and satisfactorily) interred her husband, Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme, in the family vault in the village churchyard.
Rupert died by smashing his Hispano-Suiza on a Cotswold country road while carrying a French mademoiselle in the passenger seat. With the house now Addie’s, needed improvements in hand, and a weekend house party underway, how inconvenient of Rupert to turn up! Not in the flesh, but in—actually, as a—spirit. Rupert has to perform a few good deeds before becoming welcomed to heaven—or, more likely, thinks Addie, to hell.
Before Addie can convince herself she’s not completely lost her mind, a murder disrupts her careful seating arrangement. Which of her twelve houseguests is a killer? Her mother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Broughton? Her sister Cecilia, the born-again vegetarian? Her childhood friend and potential lover, Lord Lucas Waring? Rupert has a solid alibi as a ghost and an urge to detect.
Enter Inspector Devenand Hunter from the Yard, an Anglo-Indian who is not going to let some barmy society beauty witnessed talking to herself derail his investigation. Something very peculiar is afoot at Compton Court and he’s going to get to the bottom of it—or go as mad as its mistress trying.
Dear Ms. Robinson,
I love the cover of this book and immediately read the blurb. Yummy – a murder mystery set during the roaring 20s and with a ghost. Hmmm, I wasn’t too sure about that or how the Anglo-Indian character of the lead detective would be portrayed but I couldn’t wait to try it.
Lady Adelaide Compton figures she finally deserves some good luck. Her philandering husband Rupert died under circumstances that set tongues wagging but their marriage hadn’t been whole for ages – ever since Addie discovered he was having numerous affairs. Now widowed for six months, she’s redecorated the country estate he left her and is hosting her first Saturday-to-Monday house party. Already the numbers are off with the vicar having to sit by a parishioner’s bed so thirteen people sit down to dinner. And that’s after Rupert’s ghost suddenly shows up in Addie’s bedroom, scaring the daylights out of her.
After her proper butler takes her out of the dining room to tell her a body has been found – nude – in her tithe barn, Addie knows she never should have sent the invitations. The next morning a detective and his sergeant from Scotland Yard arrive and begin interviews as well as going over the scene. Then another body is found. But who would want to kill the victims – a racy society divorcee and Lady Addie’s gardener – and why?
Inspector Devenand Hunter might not have wanted to become a policeman but with his English father being retired from the Army and then the police force, Dev hadn’t ever had much choice. His father’s contacts smoothed the way a little but as Dev tells Lady Addie, he discovered he enjoyed police work and is actually quite good at it. With his Indian mother’s “more English than the English” social skills drilled into him, he makes his way easily through society though he knows there are many who initially distrust and look down on him.
Going with his gut instinct and the information he has, Dev rules Addie out as the killer but with a large house, doors open to catch any breeze on that sweltering day and lots of people – some with motive and opportunity but few with alibies – who dunnit? He might not believe several other people did the deeds but it’s going to take the two of them – plus Rupert – to catch this killer.
I love the time period and details. They all set the scenes without feeling ladled on just to add color. I just had to look up the couture of Callot Soeurs – and seriously want one of these gowns! Having Addie and Rupert at odds before his death adds an interesting twist and having him show up already dead allowed me to like him more than I would have had I seen his actions hurt Addie in real life. Rupert was a war hero and many never settled down after they survived and came home. The things Addie’s mother deplores – cacophonous music, smoking, lip rouge and barely there skirts – are only part of the charm. The behavior of the Bright Young Things plays into the murder plot and we get a spiritual medium as well.
The ghost part of the story didn’t annoy me so much as confuse me at times. Rupert is still figuring out what he can and can’t do and a lot of it seems to be convenient for the plot rather than consistent. Even the reason he’s there isn’t clear to him, Addie or us. Then there’s Addie continuously talking to him – and being heard doing it. She gets good at turning the conversation to cover this up but I wondered how long it would be before people did think she was crazy. I’m not sure if this aspect of the story will be easily carried on in future books and am not sure I’d even want it to be.
Clues are sprinkled about but I didn’t guess or be sure of the identity of the killer until the very end. Frankly I didn’t care as I was enjoying myself watching Addie come back alive and gain some agency. The lack of romance doesn’t bother me either as there is a little attraction begun that might eventually lead somewhere. But nothing is pushed too quickly. Dev is written with respect as a character though the attitudes of a few other people seem “period.” He’s careful about how he goes on which makes sense in 1924 but doesn’t hesitate to push back when someone tries to threaten or browbeat him.
The strengths of the book for me are in the period detail and watching Addie pull herself up and take charge of her life. She doesn’t turn into a detective whiz nor dash off into danger. While the murder investigation isn’t bad, it’s not the best part of the story. I think that the Lady Adelaide series is off to a good start – next stop prohibition New York City – and hope we’ll be seeing more of her and Dev. Rupert the ghost? Hmmm, I’m still not sure of him. B