Second in the
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Lady Winifred Westerly is such a disaster on the social scene that only fortune hunters would offer for her, until now. In LADY FRED she and her cousin Richard, Marquis of Danleigh, fell in love, and now Dickie has invited her to a house party at Darke’s Reach to meet his parents.
Lady Freddy’s father and godmother would forbid this connection if they knew about it. Dickie’s mother, though divorced from his father, has returned to live at Darke’s End with her ex-husband, known as Devil Darke. Between the rakehell Duke of Darke, his runaway ex-wife Mrs. Picket, and Dickie’s success at boxing, the family is too disgraceful even for the ill-reputed Lady Freddy. There is nothing else she can do: Freddy must get Dickie’s parents to remarry.
Into a house party made awkward by the Duke’s discarded mistress Lily White and the flirtations of the younger Mrs. Dashwood, bursts our old friend the Bow Street Executioner, intent on arresting the Duke for murder. The body of a woman murdered in London is surrounded by clues pointing at Devil Darke. Even the remarriage of Dickie’s parents couldn’t salvage Dickie’s family if the Duke is tainted with suspicions of murder. Freddy must find the real killer.
In this sprightly mystery, author Melissa McCann has found her balance between likeable characters and a house full of believable suspects. Lady Freddy, who excels at keeping those around her confused, never lets her own feet off the ground – though it appears Dickie can teach her a thing or two about enjoying dizziness. Few people besides Dickie understand Freddy’s off-the-wall observations, but Dickie’s mother can. Freddy and Mrs. Picket become savvy allies in dealing with Dickie’s father and with the dysfunctional Dashwood family. Her experiences with her own disreputable mother allow her to fit right into this questionable household, with highly entertaining results.
One especially successful, ambiguous character in DARKE’S FOLLY is the Duke of Darke. I was tickled by the combination of sinister charm and silly satire with which McCann handled him. The other is the Enchanted Lady, a forest dweller of a memorable, beautiful appearance and enigmatic identity. Another, different kind of success is the complicated psychological history of the Dashwoods. This small, widely varied group is transformed by events in the space of a few days.
The collection of people in DARKE’S FOLLY is almost as interesting as in McCann’s two other suspense novels, but definitely more likeable. From the look of things, we will get to know Freddy’s outcast mother when the final book of the trilogy, THE SCANDAL, comes out. DARKE’S FOLLY is delightful company. I know I’ll be rereading it.
Dec 2005 Review
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