"A Woman of Consequence" by Anna Dean
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Oh woe, to be a 36-year-old unwed woman in Regency England, the period during which Jane Austen wrote, struggling to build up a living of her own.
For, to be in such a state as Miss Dido Kent, single and sliding into 40, proved to be wretchedly worrisome.
No money and no means to earn it, except for pittances at menial labors, or by becoming a salesworthy author, or by ... well, we shan't go there.
To be sure, Miss Kent-- in this third mystery novel by British writer Anna Dean-- presently finds herself in a garret room, alongside the maids, of the vicarage in which one of her elder brothers and his "sigh and try to bear the inconvenient presence of the sister-in-law" wife dwell.
Nevertheless, Dido has a doozy of a puzzle to solve, although she would probably call it a "pip," "doozies" being a good century off, in a much modder England.
Dido's friends-- two sisters-- at a neighboring estate, Ashfield, are entertaining a guest from Bath, who takes a nasty spill in some nearby abbey ruins, reported to be haunted by the Grey Nun.
(As opposed to a Blue Nun, whom we must assume leads a jollier life, given her penchant for fermentation.)
Nevertheless, don't think the author is going all Gothic on us. Her story has little to do with specters and much more with Dido's fellow womanhood and their sad plights under an economic system that takes them for granted, driving them to dire lengths.
Moreover, the mystery here surfaces when the skeletal remains of a woman who disappeared 15 years ago do. She is determined to have been the much-beloved governess of the local "lady of the manor."
Said Lady presses Dido to delve into the circumstances of the governess's death, which is ruled a suicide, thereby landing the deceased's remains outside the hallowed graveyard of the manor's church (not to be confused with the village church served by Dido's brother).
The Lady-- the governess's charge-- is much distressed by that unholy treatment; hence, her appeal to Dido.
The author indeed builds up a doozy of a mystery, with plenty of artfully plotted distractions tangential to Dido's quest. As our heroine notes-- the more one investigates, the more odd behavior one tends to encounter.
As if Dido's investigation were not fraught with enough complications, up pops Mr. William Lomax, who sought to engage her in a commitment to matrimony in a previous novel and who is far from giving up the fight, although he continues to be vexed by her proclivity toward investigating.
Terribly unladylike, that, argues Mr. Lomax. However, the man is clearly smitten by Dido, and it would seem that That Old Black Magic (if not the Grey Nun) is weaving its spell upon her.
Now, if only Kent & Lomax would join forces and become the Nick and Nora Charles of Regency England-- or, as Dido would have it, the Nora and Nick Charles.
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