A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman fulfills the “Book that Won an Award in 2019” category of the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge. This story won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel in May 2019. The Agatha is an award for mysteries that fall under “cozy” guidelines—no sex, not much violence, and an amateur detective. Technically, I cannot discern if the book is the 2019 candidate or the 2018. The prize was awarded in 2019, so I’m saying it fits the slot.
Change my mind.
I must confess I already had a copy of this story on my Kindle before the awards were announced. The author and I are in a Facebook group together for authors that had debut books in 2018. Many of the authors in the group have launched amazing careers, not only Diane Freeman but also Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient) and Mike Chen (Here and Now and Then). I’m humbled to be in this company.
A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder puts the reader back in Victorian England with all the romance and glamor of the season and Jane Austen feelings all over (though she was regency, but you know what I mean). Our recently widowed heroine Frances Price Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, is tired of life with her in-laws and buys a new home for herself and her daughter in London. In that era, a woman making money decisions is reprehensible, not to mention she’s taking her American money away from her greedy, desperate in-laws.
Chaos ensues for the poor woman when her brother-in-law threatens to sue for her money from her father, her sister arrives to be introduced for the season, and most importantly, someone has suggested to the police that Frances killed her husband. She just wanted some space, but now she must deal with a lack of money, the police inquiries, and finding a suitable match for her little sister. Did I mention a thief has also targeted her in the middle of all the kerfuffle?
I know it sounds like a lot, but Ms. Freeman twists and winds these subplots beautifully. There’s even a small romantic arc (spoiler, unfinished). Each piece of the tale works well with the next creating a rich and adventurous story of a modern woman in Victorian times.
The characters were well formed, though I hated that Frances cried over her rotten dead husband of hers. She so deserved better, and that man didn’t deserve a tear. Ms. Freeman created a strong, independent woman in Frances and watching her suffer pulled at my heart. The suspects were plenty and all viable. Ms. Freeman’s descriptions were rich without being overbearing, and I fell a little in love with George Hazelton, the next-door-neighbor (as I was supposed to).
If you love an English cozy, go read the novel. Like right now.
I give A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman, Five Stolen Bracelets.