Book Review: The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen
By Janet WebbAugust 14, 2020
Lady Georgiana Rannoch’s friends and relatives know Georgie as the soul of loyalty and discretion and an absolute brick if you’re in trouble. Just ask Queen Mary or Belinda Warburton-Stoke, Georgie’s best friend from Swiss boarding school. Now blissfully married to the Honorable Darcy O’Mara, a Roman Catholic, Georgie, aka Mrs. O’Mara, is no longer in the line of royal succession. But once a duke’s daughter, always a duke’s daughter. Darcy and Georgie had a marvelous wedding trip to Kenya, although Love and Death Among the Cheetahs had more than a whiff of a Busman’s Honeymoon.
Three months later, Darcy had accepted a mysterious assignment, and gone off, unable to tell Georgie where he was going. Georgie knows Darcy works undercover for the government, which is more to his taste than a conventional desk job, but she’ll miss him. Darcy gives her some advice before he leaves.
“I’ll miss you too, but we have to get on with life, don’t we? You must learn to keep yourself busy. Do some entertaining.”
“Entertaining?” I sounded more horrified than I intended to. “Dinner parties and things? Without you?”
“It’s about time we got to know our neighbors,” he said, “and you know they are all dying to take a peek at Eynsleigh and meet the lady of the house, who is reputed to be related to the royal family.”
“Oh golly,” says Georgie, as in no thank you: she’s not a confident hostess. Not that long ago, while staying in her brother Binky’s London house, she cleaned other people’s houses for money and lived on baked beans. Georgie goes up to town—maybe Princess Zou Zou is in residence, or she can invite her grandfather to visit—but she strikes out and returns home, only to be surprised by a sports car barreling up her drive.
It was my dear friend Belinda Warburton-Stoke, her sleek black hair hidden under a bright red motoring cap with a jaunty feather on one side and wearing a flame-red cape that flew out as she ran.
Belinda has hit the jackpot: her grandmother left her a sizeable estate—she’s now a rich woman with a house in Bath, and property in Cornwall.
“Anyway, back to Cornwall,” I said. “This new property. What do you know about it?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Belinda said. “So I thought I ought to go down and take a look for myself. And I wondered if you’d like to come with me. A girl’s outing. And Adventure. Just like old times, what?”
“Oh rather,” I said.
White Sails turns out to be a decrepit fishing shack. The bathing facilities in the stone basement are unspeakable: “The smell of fish still lingered. In one corner was a rusted tin bathtub, and in another a toilet.” Georgie and Belinda share the single bed, draping themselves with their outer garments to combat the cold, only to wake up to a ménage à trois … perhaps a slight exaggeration.
I was instantly awake and sat bolt upright. “Belinda! Wake up. There’s someone in our bed.”
The intruder is Jago, a friend from the days when Belinda spent the summers with her grandmother. He reminds Georgie of her dashing Darcy. White Sails needs a bathroom, sturdy locks, heat, and numerous other repairs so off they go to find alternate accommodations. Cornwall is known for its volatile weather, but they are greeted by the spectacular view of the Camel Estuary. They make inquiries in the village of Rock for a place to stay, nothing fancy. An expensively dressed woman comes into the store and recognizes Belinda.
“Wait a minute. I know you. Aren’t you Belinda?”
Belinda turned to look at the woman as she came toward us. “Rosie?” she asked in surprise.
Rosie says Belinda and her friend simply must stay with her and her husband Tony at Trewoma. She won’t take no for an answer. What’s the matter with that, wonders Georgie, decent accommodations and a bed that doesn’t squeak. Belinda says she was the cook’s daughter and a bit of a sneak. Georgie tells her she’s being a snob but there’s more—a few years ago Belinda had a torrid affair with Tony Summers, when he was engaged to his first wife.
Rose is now married to Tony Summers, Belinda’s childhood crush, and lives in the lovely house on the cliffs that he has inherited. Rose confides that she thinks Tony killed his first wife and now she is afraid. She asks Georgie and Belinda to observe Tony’s behavior and their surroundings. Is Rose imagining things? Is Tony dangerous? In their quest for answers, they encounter a creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Mannering, and learn that some kind of forgotten tragedy occurred on the property years ago involving them all.
Mrs. Mannering is a scary eavesdropper and spy. She never stops eulogizing Jonquil, the vibrant and unforgettable first Mrs. Summers. Georgie is not happy. She doesn’t like staying with Rose and her husband and she misses Darcy desperately. Tragedy rears its head again when a member of the household is found dead and Belinda is arrested. Georgie is positive her friend is innocent but she’s the only person who thinks so.
Georgie is truly on her own. No royals, no husband, and not much help from Belinda. She pulled Belinda’s chestnuts out of the fire once before in On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service. If Georgie can’t exonerate her friend, it won’t be for lack of trying.
The Last Mrs. Summers serves up all the traditional Cornish elements one might expect—smuggling, cliffs, ever-changing weather, and multi-generational families. Cornwall’s charms notwithstanding, Georgie learns there’s no place like home and she is eager to return to Eynsleigh and embrace her new life.