It’s difficult to sum up this book in a few words, because things happen very slowly, and they start in a roundabout way. Julian Kestrel, a famous dandy, is invited to the wedding of a man he barely knows. He thinks a stay in the country will give him a respite with his creditors, but his stay at Bellegarde is everything but peaceful. The groom’s family is at war with the bride’s father, everyone is hiding secrets, and there’s a dead woman in Julian’s bed.
Really brilliant Regency mystery. It reads like a cross between Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, which was perfect to me. The mystery was long and rather convoluted and I enjoyed it very much; this is one of those books, the ones that make me stay up unreasonably late because I just have to know who did it, and how, and why. I did guess some things, but not the murderer, because I fixated on the wrong person early on. Still, the solution was very satisfactory because it made sense to me (minus a certain necessary suspension of disbelief) and all the pieces fit neatly together.
I confess I might be in love with Julian Kestrel — I’ve always had a fondness for witty characters, and all of his dialogue is gold. He tries very hard to look detached and frivolous, and he does make fun of himself and others a lot, but underneath he cares more than he wants to admit even to himself. At first Julian’s reason for investigating is part intellectual curiosity and part wanting to clear himself and his valet, but by the end he feels compelled to see that justice is done, even though he’s become close to the people involved in the case. I liked that and I want to read more about him.
The other characters are also remarkable. Ross really had a gift for making everyone come to life through their descriptions and the way they talked. There were a lot of characters in the house, but I was never at risk of mixing them up or forgetting about someone. Every single character was the centre of their own story. It’s almost a pity I had to leave Bellegarde and won’t know how everyone will be getting on after the events of the story. Stunning debut and I’m looking forward to the second book.