on June 21st 2018
The perfect mix of historical murder and mystery with a hint of romance! For fans of Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Barbara Erskine and Jane Austen.
When a murder is committed a lady’s companion finds herself as an amateur sleuth…
When Emily Fanshawe, Marchioness of Polbrook, is found strangled in her bedchamber, suspicion immediately falls on those residing in the grand house in Hanover Square.
Emily’s husband - Randal Fanshawe, Lord Polbrook - fled in the night and is chief suspect – much to the dismay of his family.
Ottilia Draycott is brought in as the new lady’s companion to Sybilla, Dowager Marchioness and soon finds herself assisting younger son, Lord Francis Fanshawe in his investigations.
Can Ottilia help clear the family name? Does the killer still reside in the house?
Or could there be more to the mystery than meets the eye…?
THE GILDED SHROUD is the first book in the Lady Fan Mystery series: historical romance murder mysteries with a courageous woman sleuth embarking on a traditional British, private investigation in eighteenth-century London.
The chambermaid, creeping into my lady’s room to light the fire, noticed nothing amiss. Prey to all the discomforts of a cold in the head, with her hearing muffled, Sukey was unaware of the unusual silence. Nor could any unpleasant odour penetrate beyond the thickness of a stuffed-up nose. Indeed, her concentration was intent upon trying not to sniff too loudly, for fear of disturbing her mistress’s rest.
With deft and practised movements, she went about her accustomed task with the minimum of noise, scraping out last night’s ashes and setting fresh coals and faggots in their place. When it came to blowing up the embers to encourage a fitful flame, however, the shortness of breath induced by Sukey’s condition made her cough involuntarily.
Catching a hand to her throat, the chambermaid paused in her work, her fearful head automatically turning towards the great four-poster behind her, poised for the slightest sign of wakening within.
At this juncture, a faint sense came over her of something out of true. Unformed and eerie, the feeling momentarily froze Sukey’s spine as she stared at the dark shape of the curtained bed, only half-visible in the grey tint slipping round the edges of the shutters at the windows.
A shiver shook her, and she jerked round towards the fire again, watching the struggling flame without seeing it or remembering for a moment what she must do to make it flare brighter.
A drip at her nose recalled Sukey’s attention to the task in hand. Wiping her sleeve across the offending moisture, she resumed her work, tucking flinders into the flame with unconscious haste and blowing now with a will, her ills pushed to one side in a bid to be done as quickly as she might and be gone from my lady’s chamber.
A little more than an hour later, her ladyship’s personal maid, stepping quietly into the dressing room next door, was less fortunate. Burdened with nothing worse than the morning cup of hot chocolate destined for the delectation of her mistress, Mary Huntshaw yawned the remnants of sleep out of her eyes and paused as they took in the condition of the room. What she had left in meticulous order upon retiring to her bed the night before had become a shambles.
The silken bodice, the overskirt, and its embroidered petticoat had been carefully laid up in the larger press by the lady’s maid herself, but her ladyship’s under-petticoats lay in an untidy heap on the floor, together with a crumpled shift and her discarded stays, the laces half-ripped from their moorings. The drawer in the dressing commode had been left open, and a dusting of colour overlay the disarranged pots within, indicating a hasty application of paint and powder. The maid’s disapproving glance next caught upon an object thrown carelessly into the mess, and a betraying twinkle in the gloom forced from her lips a shocked gasp.
The fan, my lady’s precious fan, a relic of a bygone age, a prized family heirloom, had been flung down as if it were of no account. It was an exquisite object, its guards encrusted with gemstones, its painted leaf of finest kid decorated with a scattering of tiny diamonds. Now it lay carelessly discarded, half unfurled, its delicate sticks spread across the open pots, exposed to disfiguring smears and breakage.
As she stood there, dismay and consternation gathering in her breast, Huntshaw grew aware of an acrid odour emanating from the bedchamber. Her instant thought was of the chamber pot and the unpleasant duty which must fall to her lot, of emptying its contents and washing it out. An immediate reflection followed: How unlike her ladyship to leave it under the bed rather than stowing it in the bedside cupboard where the smell would be somewhat contained.
Like Sukey before her, Huntshaw fell prey to an inner prescience that slid a ripple of apprehension through her bosom. Moving without realising that she did so, the maid went to the connecting door and seized the knob. For a moment she hesitated, a tingle in her fingers. The little silver tray she held in her other hand trembled slightly and Huntshaw was obliged to tighten her grip for fear of dropping it. Her mouth felt dry and her heartbeat quickened.
Come, she told herself, this was fanciful. She had only to open the door and step into the room to find that all was well.
Gently, she turned the knob and pushed the door slowly open. Shadows, thrown by slivers of light escaping through the shutters, played eerily across the curtains of the big bed. It was a sight to which Huntshaw was well accustomed, but now it seemed portentous. The silence yawned at her as she strained her ears for the muffled sound of the sighing breath that should have signalled my lady’s rest. Instead, she became conscious only of the faint regular tick of the gold-mounted clock on the mantel.
The smell of ordure was stronger as Huntshaw’s feet shifted her closer to the bed. She was hardly aware of her own motion, impelled by the growing sensation of wrongness that thumped at her brain in rhythm with the pounding of her heart.
The tray became leaden and she needed both hands to steady it, but they trembled as she set it down on the bedside table. This close the stench was overpowering, but the maid scarcely noticed, her senses strung like a bow taut for scraping.
Her timorous fingers crept towards the break in the curtains. She grasped an edge and wrenched it back.
Shards of light raced across the dark mound within, one arrowing up to the face, illuminating a bulging eye, fixed and staring.
~~Reviewed by AnnMarie~~
The Gilded Shroud is the first book in A Lady Fan Mystery series by Elizabeth Bailey.
Ottilia Draycott has only just taken on the temporary position as companion to the Dowager Marchioness of Polbrook when a murder occurs.
Emily Fanshawe, Marchioness of Polbrook is found strangled in her bed, and her husband Randal Fanshawe, Lord Polbrook apparently flees the house before the body is discovered. All finger point to him murdering his wife.
Ottilia is a straight thinking, calm woman and hearing about the death, and fathoming that it can’t have been Randal who committed the murder, ingratiates herself into the family’s confidences. They encourage her and give free rein to look into the circumstances of the murder and believe her capable of finding the real criminal.
One person who is more than grateful for Ottilia’s help is Lord Francis Fanshawe, Randal’s younger brother. He is thankful that Ottilia’s calm seems to rub off on everybody and he is even brought to laughter sometimes at the ways she goes about her investigations. She brings a lightness to the situation that he desperately needs. Francis and Ottilia are attracted to each other but their feelings very much take a back seat to all that is going on with the murder investigation.
Will Randal be exonerated of his wife’s murder, if not him, then who murdered her, and why? Ottilia will be the catalyst to the criminal’s downfall and I for one was surprised not by who was the murderer, but just what happened on that fateful night.
This book was very much a murder mystery with just a tad of romance. Personally, I would have liked more romance, but I can understand why there couldn’t be any more. A murder investigation is hardly the time or place to be having passionate romance occurring. When the romance did take off for Francis and Ottilia it was sweet and moving.
I loved how the author used words I had never even heard of from the era, I had to look many of them up and was thoroughly pleased to be learning their meanings. I love a book that can be entertaining whilst also teaching me something new.
I haven’t read any of this author’s books before, but if nothing else I will hopefully have the chance to read the next books in this series.
I voluntarily reviewed an advance copy of this book.