Murder in an English Glade is a charming historical mystery featuring an Odd Couple-type pair of private investigators: British socialite/aspiring novelist Edwina Davenport and American adventuress Beryl Helliwell. In this instalment, the investigators are hired to run a fake undercover investigation at an artists’ retreat — their client’s cousin is accusing their client’s sister-in-law of having an affair with one of the artists, and the client believes the appearance of an investigation will quell her cousin’s doubts before the accusations erupt into a full-blown scandal. Except that shortly after Beryl and Edwina arrive, the artist turns up murdered, and the fake investigation turns real.
It’s a charming premise. I’m a huge fan of genteel British small town mysteries, and I loved the chance to delve into a world where there’s an estate large enough to host a group of artists and a group of Girl Guides, and art has such cultural cache that such goings-on are simply par for the course for the ultra elite. The beginning also totally won me over, with Beryl blundering into an argument with Edwina’s housekeeper — being unused to servants, Beryl thinks she’s being helpful, but Edwina’s gardener is quick to point out her faux pas. I love that contrast between both the lead characters, and how they responded to the situation.
The mystery, as well, hooked me at first. I loved the subplot about a potential romance for Edwina, and the comedy around Edwina learning what going undercover as an artist’s model may actually require her to do. I also hadn’t realized cigarette cases were designed by painters working with models, so that was an interesting bit of history. The big reveal came as a surprise to me, and I like how all the various disparate elements came together at the end.
That being said, the novel fizzled out for me partway through. Possibly, it’s just that I had to be in a certain mood to really get into it, but the latter half felt slow to me. The mystery surrounding Beryl’s history with one of the guests didn’t really interest me much, and I wanted to see a lot more of Edwina’s potential romance. The way the reveal was structured also felt a bit confusing — there’s a major clue near the end that points to a particular suspect, but then much ado is made over figuring out the involvement of a character who turned out to be irrelevant to the reveal. And the villain’s motivation was only hinted at on-page — there were some clues leading up to it, but the key part of information behind their motivation was only brought up in the big exposition scene, which I felt took away some of the “Aha!” feeling of all the pieces clicking into place.
Overall, it’s a pretty good mystery. I found the characters of Beryl and Edwina to be interesting, and I love the set-up of the faux investigation. The second half was a bit of a letdown, but overall, the mystery was solid, and had some good red herrings and clues.
Thank you to Kensington Books for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.