In honor of Tessa Arlen's Agatha Award nomination for Best First Novel, here is an excerpt of the first chapter of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman!
Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband's degenerate nephew is found murdered, it's more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.
Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son's name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort's close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.
On the morning of Lord and Lady Montfort’s annual summer ball, their housekeeper, Edith Jackson, was up, washed, and almost dressed by six o’clock. She unraveled her long bedtime plait, brushed out her hair, and, with a mouth full of hairpins, swept the thick auburn swath into a twist at the nape of her neck, deftly securing it in place. The glance she cast into the looking glass was brief, made only to reassure that she was presentable. Then she rang for the third housemaid to bring breakfast up to her parlor.
As Mrs. Jackson sat down to eat her bacon and eggs, she mentally prepared herself for a day that would be packed with complicated, overlapping timetables and countless calls on her patience and tact. She was quite certain the house was ready for the greatest event of its year, but she did not allow herself to be complacent about her ladyship. The countess often awoke to her best ideas on the morning of the ball. In past years, dancing by the lake or midnight supper in the ruin of the old moated castle were inspirations that had struck Lady Montfort only at the last moment. Mrs. Jackson knew from long experience that it did not pay to be overconfident about readiness where her ladyship was concerned. Don’t tempt fate, the housekeeper told herself, not until after your meeting with her at nine o’clock.
She finished her second cup of tea and washed her hands before leaving the sanctuary of her rooms to descend three flights of stairs to the servants’ hall. Walking past the kitchen, she increased her pace as she heard the strident voice of the cook harrying her kitchen maids to greater efforts. She was careful not to turn her head in case she caught Mrs. Thwaite’s eye; an early encounter with Cook, who was of a garrulous nature, would certainly slow her down. Fortunately, Cook was wholly absorbed in straining a large copper pan of veal stock, and Mrs. Jackson made her escape out of the scullery door, unnoticed.
[Read more from Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman here...]