A Quiet Life in the Country (Lady Hardcastle Mystery Volume 1), by T.E. Kinsey
T. E. Kinsey has written a number of foreshortened cozy mystery series over the years … several volumes published as Volume 1 with no following volumes … but with Lady Hardcastle she seems to have found a niche with a pair of enjoyable Edwardian detectives. There are now two volumes published with a third due in June 2017.
Volume 1 of this series doesn’t spend a lot of time developing the characters. It almost feels like being dropped into the middle of a series. Through the narration (by Lady Hardcastle’s companion Flo Armstrong) we learn that Lady Hardcastle is a widow whose husband was killed while serving for the Foreign Office in China. Hardcastle and Armstrong then made their way precariously through Asia from China to India, with a long enough stop along the route for Armstrong to have done some training with Shaolin Monks. It’s never really made clear why they weren’t able to simply hop on a ship and return home.
After time in India the two have returned to England and are now determined to enjoy a quiet life in Gloucestershire. That quiet life is disturbed during a walk through some woods where they find a man hanged in an old oak. This begins their career as detectives as they decide the local constabulary isn’t considering the crime as clearly as they should. Lady Hardcastle invests in a black board and invents her own “murder board” using drawings and magazine clippings as she and Armstrong begin trying to put the pieces together. Meanwhile, during a ball at a neighboring house, a ruby is stolen and a musician is found dead giving them additional mysteries to celebrate.
Hardcastle and Armstrong have a relationship closer to friends than master and servant. The two play off each other well for some great English humor. Armstrong is Welsh and the child of a circus family which, I hope, will come to some use in future books. In this book she intelligent and sharp-eyed, but other than her martial arts skills doesn’t bring much exceptional to the investigations. Her role as a servant lets her mix “below stairs” with servants of other households to listen in on the latest gossip. Lady Hardcastle mostly brings curiosity and eccentricity to the pair but this also hides intelligence that is only hinted at in this book.
Together they’re a fun team to follow as they work with or around the police. There are plenty of stereotypical English characters for the period, at least one secret door, and a fair bit of local color. It was a fun read and I’m looking forward to the next in series.