Book Review: Murder at Keyhaven Castle by Clara McKenna

With her wedding to Viscount "Lyndy" Lyndhurst just days away, strong-willed American ex-pat Stella Kendrick is the talk of Edwardian society—and the focus of a deadly mystery—in Clara McKenna's third historical mystery titled Murder at Keyhaven Castle set in England's New Forest region at the turn of the 20th century.

Miss Stella Kendrick and Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst are almost at the altar. From the get-go, their courtship has been beset with mayhem and murders. 

The couple met in Murder at Morrington Hall, Morrington Hall being Lyndy’s family estate. Stella is a motherless American from Kentucky. Elijah Kendrick, her bombastic, controlling father, is a very wealthy horse breeder. Unbeknownst to Stella, he negotiated an alliance for her in England. She’s an American Dollar Princess: Elijah’s dollars “bought” the title of an impoverished aristocratic family. Fortunately, Lyndy and Stella are horse mad. That served as a bridge as they gradually dismantled the stereotypes of their courtship.  

Lyndy’s grandfather was a renowned breeder in his day—it’s Lyndy’s father who has frittered away the family money on expensive archeological digs around the globe. Lyndy knows he must restore the family fortunes through marriage—he has as little choice in the matter as Stella—but he’s pleasantly surprised by the forthright and intelligent Miss Kendrick. Lyndy’s shock at Elijah Kendrick’s cruelty brings forth his innate protectiveness, and Stella is happy to be partnered with someone who touches her “without mal-intent.”

They become formally engaged in Murder at Blackwater Bend, while solving another murder. The local constabulary, led by Inspector Brown, respects their detective chops: “Besides, Brown had thrown away any semblance of standard protocol when these two aided him with his last murder case. They’d caught the killer, hadn’t they?” 

Stella’s wedding to Lyndy is just three days away. Attended by her seamstress, she can’t contain her excitement and her concerns.

The sweeping gown of white silk muslin overlaid with cascades of silky, delicate Chantilly lace caressed her figure like a glove. It was the most beautiful dress Stella had ever seen.

 

What a stark contrast to the man who spared no expense in acquiring it for her.

 

It wasn’t that Stella wasn’t grateful. She was, despite his lack of affection, his finding fault with all she did, his occasional burst of temper. Truly. He’d given her everything: this dress, a lovely home, a beloved horse, a vast fortune, and a secure future. He was her father, after all. She owed him her very existence. Yet as her wedding day approached, and with it a promise of a new start, Stella was counting the days her father went back to Kentucky.

 

Was it possible to love someone and still wish they would go away?

Elijah Kendrick is obsessed with Stella’s wedding presents, judging the worthiness of the giver by the cost of the gift. He carelessly opens a late-arriving present. There’s no card inside and he tosses it aside, saying, “If you ever think to give such a good-for-nothing wedding gift,” he advised the wide-eyed seamstress, “you should have the decency to own up to it.” After he leaves, Stella falls in love with the exquisite souvenir spoon: “its handle, of two interwoven vines, was topped by a carving of two connected hearts framing the likenesses of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.” A personal note is enclosed: “May this complete your collection. May you find love that completes you.” But how did the anonymous giver know “of her fondness for souvenir spoons” or that she has a huge “collection gathering dust back home in Kentucky?” How very mysterious. Murder at Keyhaven Castle explores Stella’s childhood and family in surprising ways. 

Stella’s father insists that she accompany him to nearby Southampton wharf because he wants to show off the future viscountess to the Swenson family, newly embarked from America. Stella soon sorts out their ulterior motive. 

The Swenson family weren’t here to oblige Stella’s father or to help her celebrate the joyous occasion.  With Stella able to make the necessary introductions at the wedding, they were hoping to find an aristocrat to marry Penny.

 

Good luck!

 

Though Penny’s inheritance was almost as much as Stella’s, Penny’s disposition would be the stumbling block. Stella pitied the unsuspecting nobleman Penny set her sights on.

Stella’s gaze is captured by an escaped dog, a commotion at “a colorful fruit market,” and an escaped “team of horses.” Adding to the confusion, a hansom cab enters the fray and tries frantically to avoid a collision: “Then suddenly, a man stumbled into their path.” Nothing could save him.  Inspector Brown is asked to join the investigation into the trampled man’s death. The man must be identified immediately. 

“Why the rush?”

 

“Because before he died, multiple witnesses overheard our victim threatening to kill someone, and we have but one clue to this man’s identity. Here, Inspector, is where you come in.”

 

“How’s that?”

 

Clark held out a creased, soiled newspaper clipping that had been torn out by hand. Brown took the fragment and read it. He hesitated a moment before passing it to his constable to read. Constable Waterman whistled his surprise.

Don’t keep us in suspense. Inspector Brown interviews Lyndy and Stella—can they explain the tattered clipping?

It was the announcement of their wedding that had run in the Courier-Journal in Louisville. The same one Uncle Jed had mentioned. “We found it on the trampled man.”

 

“So, the man has a copy of our wedding announcement,” Lyndy said, handing it back to the inspector.

A copy from a Kentucky newspaper? That and a “packet of matches” were the only items found on the dead man’s body. There are too many occurrences, like the arrival of the anonymous souvenir spoon, and strange coincidences—a dead man with knowledge of their pending wedding—to be ignored.  There is another murder, this time someone close to the couple. Stella and Lyndy race to discover who is trying to prevent their wedding. Nothing is going to stand in the way of their long-anticipated union, combining the best of the old and new worlds.

More: Read our review of Murder at Blackwater Bend by Clara McKenna

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