The Gilded Shroud – Elizabeth Bailey

This book was requested from NetGalley in exchange of a fair review

Genre : Historical Fiction

Book Cover : 3 ***

Rating : 3***

The cover of the gilded shroud promised me a book set in Victorian London, which is usually one of my favourite times for historical fiction to be set in. Also, the synopsis of the book sold it to me completely. A murder in the big house, a lady detective, a hapless hero – all seemed perfect!

However, sadly the book fell short of expectations by, if not considerable, definitely a healthy margin. While the book cover does complete justice to conveying the content of the book, the title left something to be desired. There was no gold-plated shroud in the story, realistically or metaphorically. Unless, the author would like the title to convey that a shroud of a rich person is still a shroud. in other words when one is dead it hardly matters whether you have a shroud of jewels or a tattered one.

The story begins with a murder, lots of screaming maids and inquisitive footmen and all around general mayhem. The lady of the house has been slain in her bed and the master of the house has vanished. The Lord’s younger brother is left behind to pick up the pieces and must also inform his belligerent dowager mother. So far, so good. However, at this point the story takes a slightly unlikely turn with the introduction of the dowager’s companion, Mrs. Dalcroft. She has only just joined the dowager’s household the night before and over the breakfast table, while she is still acquainting herself with her employer, she becomes privy to the news of the tragedy that has occurred in the house. And then proceeds to take over the investigation! And, wonder of wonders, is allowed to do so with the full co-operation of this fine aristocratic family – dowager, lord, butler, housekeeper and all.

From everything that we have read about the British upper classes, they were supposed to be a notoriously tight-lipped lot. It seems beyond the pale that they would allow a mere companion to dictate their actions at a time like this; that too when she is a completely unknown commodity at that point. For some reason it reminded me of how confidence tricksters are supposed to enchant people they have only just met.

The story then progresses with Ottilia taking on the investigation in order to prove the innocence of the missing master of the house. Her logical reasoning was spot on and it is hard to deny that she used her brain in a methodical and scientific manner. The romance in the book and all other character etchings are very well done. The various reactions of the household towards the tragedy that has taken place in their midst is shown with a lot of finesse. The most genuine reaction to the lady’s death though seems to come from her brother, who, though portrayed as a bumbling fool, actually seems to be the only one who cared deeply about his sister’s death.

So, having been thrown off kilter by the precipitous nature of Ottilia becoming a trusted confidant of the household, it was a pleasure to find that all was not lost as the story progressed. The love story was suitably Victorian with lots of blushes and heartfelt sighs and abrupt departures. Ottilia is one of those thoroughly sensible females though, for which one can only be thankful when one has read enough stories with simpering, belligerent heroines getting into all manner of idiotic scrapes and clinging to the hero for rescue.

The conclusion of the mystery was not very hard to figure as per norm, although the author did manage to confuse the reader a little here and there. The bow street magistrate was also shown to be as someone with integrity and determination when faced with the polite malevolence of the aristocratic society in which the crime has occurred and thus found favour with me. Even the missing Marquis was so true to type that one feels such disdain for the man and such pity for everyone else who is doing their best to rescue him from his follies.

It is a good book to pass the time when you are not in the mood to be too critical and do not mind the author’s tendency  to drag the story a bit around the middle of the narrative. In fact, with a little brushing up it would seem the Lady Fan series may be something to look forward to in the near future.

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