It’s Christmas 1909, and for once Lady Hardcastle—respectable gentlewoman, amateur spy—and her lady’s maid, Florence Armstrong, are setting sleuthing aside. They are invited to the festivities up at The Grange, as guests of Sir Hector and Lady Farley-Stroud.
But barely have corks been popped and parlour games played when a mysterious crime comes to light. Someone has broken in while the revellers were distracted and made off with a priceless pearl necklace. Lady Hardcastle and Flo are determined to catch the thief—but with so many Christmas guests encamped at The Grange, is it possible that the felon is hiding in plain sight?
With the clues stacking up, Lady Hardcastle bears down on her culprit. But just as the pieces come together, it begins to look as if there is something more devious afoot at The Grange…
This is part of the Lady Hardcastle mystery series, a novella for the Christmas time, quick to read and easy to digest. This is the first time I read this series, so everything was unfamiliar to me. Still, the tone of the story immediately rooted me in the setting – a charming 1909 English country manor and village – and I enjoyed all the characters.
This is a witty, snappy story, with a great pace, that still allows itself to linger on exploring the life of the people in that place and time. I did think the setting was wonderful. Although limited to a couple of places, I could very clearly see them, especially when people acted in them.
Because truly, all the characters shine. All of them have a great personality. And all of them have their personal voice, which I found particularly remarkable. The nobility and the below-stairs community show different attitude and different ways to express themselves, and still, they interact with great ease, which I think it’s one of the things I liked best. There is indeed a strong sense of community and mutual help, which is particularly nice to read in a Christmas story.
The mystery is very cosy. Not a murder mystery, but the disappearance of a necklace – that doesn’t quite work. I really loved the way Lady Hardcastle and her maid Florence Armstrong go about solving the mystery, with a light heart and still cleverness. I’m also extremely intrigued by their relationship because although the story just takes it for granted, it’s quite obvious there’s a lot to know about them, including how they came to be part of this community.
The solution of the mystery was really perfect and so sweet. And still so very satisfying.
A very heart-warming Christmas story and a very good mystery.
I’m sure this won’t be the last Lady Hardcastel’s mystery I read.
Well, I actually listened to it and let me tell you that Elizabeth Knowelden is an absolutely fantastic narrator. She had a perfect pace and could make a lot of different voices that never felt weird or out of place. I loved the audiobook.
Christmas at the Grange
Lady Farley-Stroud set her cup and saucer down with a clatter. The occasional table beside the armchair in our drawing room wobbled precariously under the impact.
‘I shan’t hear another word on the matter,’ she said. ‘You shall both come up to The Grange for Christmas.’
‘But, Gertie, dear—‘ began Lady Hardcastle.
‘Butts are for storing rainwater in the garden, Emily. You’re not going to sit down here on your own while the rest of our family and friends are swaying away on the top-ropes up at the big house.’
Lady Hardcastle sighed. ‘You know I want to—‘
‘But you’re afraid to put even more of a burden on us. I know. You’re the kindest and most thoughtful person I know, m’dear, but you should just let Hector and me worry about the money. Actually, we’ll let Clarissa worry about it. She can sell the place when’s we’re dead and buried – that should settle all our debts, pay the death duty, and leave her enough for a slap-up feed to lead us on our way. As long as she goes easy on the slap-up feed.’
It was a sign of how thoroughly I’d been accepted by Lady Farley-Stroud that she felt able to make jokes about her financial circumstances in front of a ‘mere’ lady’s maid like me.
‘Tell you what,’ she continued, ‘if you can get hold of a couple of geese and a crate of ale for the villagers , we’ll call it quits. Honour will be satisfied and I can have the company of my dear friend at the most fractious time of the year. Goodness knows I’ll need an ally with Hector’s sister, Joyce, there. My own sister can only do so much to assist me, and Joyce will be the living end without a chum to guard my other flank.’
‘We can’t have that,’ said Lady Hardcastle. She paused a moment, and then sighed with resignation. ‘We shall be delighted to join you. I shall seek out the required tribute and see that you’re properly goosed in plenty of time.’
‘I say,’ said Lady Farley-Stroud with a surprisingly girlish giggle. ‘And you, Armstrong – you’re to come as a guest, not a servant.’
‘Thank you, my lady,’ I said. ‘But are you sure? What about Edna and Miss Jones?’
The Thursday Quotables was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy. It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursday and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.