*I did this review for the May edition of Historical Novels Review, the Magazine of the Historical Novel Society.
When one of her readers asks for advice following a suspected murder, Victorian countess Amelia Amesbury, who secretly pens the popular Lady Agony column, has no choice but to investigate in this first book in a charming new historical mystery series.
Amelia Amesbury—widow, mother, and countess—has a secret. Amelia writes for a London penny paper, doling out advice on fashion, relationships, and manners under the pen name Lady Agony. But when a lady’s maid writes Amelia to ask for advice when she believes her mistress has been murdered—and then ends up a victim herself—Amelia is determined to solve the case.
With the help of her best friend and a handsome marquis, Amelia begins to piece together the puzzle, but as each new thread of inquiry ends with a different suspect, the investigation grows ever more daunting. From London’s docks and ballrooms to grand country houses, Amelia tracks a killer, putting her reputation—and her life—on the line.
This Victorian mystery is the first book in the A Lady of Letters mystery series. In London in 1860, Amelia Amesbury is a countess and widow, having lost her husband to illness after a short marriage. She also has a secret. She writes an advice column for a London paper under the name Lady Agony, doling out clever answers to readers’ questions about romance, family, fashion, and more. When she receives a note from a lady’s maid who believes her mistress has been murdered, it does not end there. Amelia soon finds out the maid has been killed as well. With the help of her best friend, and assisted by a handsome marquis with secrets of his own, Amelia begins to investigate both murders. All the while, she is still trying to keep her scandalous alter ego of Lady Agony a secret.
This is a fascinating, well-thought-out mystery that will keep you guessing. The fact that a countess is writing an advice column, which would open her up to scandal if it became public knowledge, is intriguing. Each chapter heading starts with a question to and answer from Lady Agony, which is a great touch and adds a bit of humor. The main characters are engaging and well written, especially the fun-loving favorite of high society, Kitty Hamsted, who is Amelia’s best friend and sometimes partner in investigating crime. During Amelia’s investigation, we get to see both sides of London society, from Kitty’s popular parties to a peek inside the life of a servant. This is a fun take on the cozy mystery genre, and it provides a unique premise that will delight readers. Highly recommended.
I received a free copy of this from Berkley via The Historical Novel Society. My review is voluntary and the opinions expressed are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Winters is the author of A Lady of Letters Historical Mystery series, coming from Berkley in 2023. A longtime reader of Victorian fiction and an author of two other mystery series, Mary decided to write a new book set in Victorian London after taking a trip to England. Since then, she’s been busily planning her next mystery—and another trip! Please visit her website here.
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