Lady Takes the Case

Narrated by: Susan Lyons
Length: 8 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (52 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

When a dinner party turns deadly, the feisty Lady Cecilia Bates and intuitive cat Jack are on the case, in this first entry to an exciting new historical-mystery series.

England 1912. Danby Hall is the only home Lady Cecilia Bates has ever known. Despite the rigid rules of etiquette and her mother the Countess of Avebury's fervent desire to see her married off, Lady Cecilia can't imagine life anywhere else. But now, with an agricultural depression sweeping the countryside, the Bates family's possession of the hall is suddenly in peril. 

A possible solution arrives in the form of the imperious American heiress Annabel Clarke. The Earl and Countess of Avebury are determined that Cecilia's brother, Patrick, will win Annabel's hand in marriage - and her fortune along with it. To help the lackluster Patrick in this pursuit, the Bates and their staff arrange a grand house party upon the heiress's arrival. 

When a guest dies after sipping from a glass meant for Annabel, it's clear the Bates have a more poisonous problem on their hands than a lack of chemistry. As the scandal seizes Danby, Cecilia sets out to find the culprit, with help from Annabel's maid, Jane, and Jane's curiously intelligent cat, Jack. 

After the poison that someone had stashed away inside the manor is discovered, Cecilia is left with two possibilities: Either a resident of Danby snapped and tried to kill the arrogant heiress, or the threat is coming from one of their guests, who would love to see the Bates family's decline become permanent.

©2019 Penguin Random House LLC (P)2019 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Enjoyable characters, but too many loose ends.

The story opens with the dramatic death scene -- perhaps the author has heard that a good story begins in media res. We back up to all the action leading to the death scene, then follow with the remainder of the story. That by itself is a bit jarring, but forgivable, as it at least draws the reader in.

Lady Cecelia isn't bad as a main character, and the young lady's maid, Jane, is appealing from her sense of adventure and her desire for an independent life -- and her cat, Jack. Cecilia's brother, Patrick, is believable as a shy, introverted academic who'd rather potter about in his homemade laboratory than be the Viscount of Danby, a grand but crumbling estate. He's thrust unwillingly into the limelight when an American heiress arrives as a guest, and the entire household is set on a determined course to impress her sufficiently into marrying Patrick and infusing the estate with her wealth.

By the time the plot rolls back around to the death of an important guest, it's clear that things aren't all that they seem. Someone in the house is a murderer, and Cecilia is determined to find out who it is, with Jane's help.

As the story progresses, though, the story seems less and less satisfying. Not only does Jane help Cecilia, it seems that everyone they encounter is willing to help instead of warning them that they're meddling with murderers, and the reader begins to wonder just what time period this story is set in. The author divides the world into the good and the bad, where bad things only happen to bad people and the innocent emerge unscathed. The murder victim is revealed to be a scoundrel, as though his death must be somehow justified to the larger universe. The villains -- and it became obvious early that one of them was not what they claimed to be -- are nothing more than bad people behaving very badly indeed. Plot points turn on coincidences -- a jeweled snuffbox vanishes just after Cecilia and her friend just happen to have a long, close, detailed look at the cabinet containing them, for example. Or finding a cache of letters behind a loose board in the back of a closet, a hidey hole that only Cecilia knows about -- and it just happens that one of the guests finds it, too, but not the police. There are also unlikely events -- a characters who was almost falling-down drunk in one scene manages, in the next, to shoot an arrow with amazing accuracy.

The finale of the story leaves too many loose ends. The descriptions of Patrick's scientific studies of plants are a glaring reveal that the author knows nothing about medicinal plants beyond Digitalis, and hasn't bothered to research. The identity of the poison used for the dramatic opening death scene is never revealed except that it's some plant extract from Patrick's lab, and it's obvious that there was only one person besides Patrick who had access to his lab. Nor is it clear how the poison was administered. A side plot, tracking down the mistress of the murder victim, falls strangely flat. It's not even clear if it was meant to be a red herring. It's more of a distraction. Cecilia smells burnt cork and finds a small bottle with a cork that has been scorched, but the meaning of this is never explained. And in the final scene, a young woman turns up out of the blue, though her whereabouts had been unknown earlier, and where she's been is never explained.

I do hope the author improves with time. There's promise in this cast of characters for a light cozy mystery series. It just needs a tighter plot, without useless red herrings, loose ends, and plot holes large enough to drive a coach and four through.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Much Ado About Nothing

A plethora of lofty language but short on plot or even anybody much to like. If you're mainly looking for a very accurate and physical description of the manors, the incredible luxury of aristocracy in those times and the extreme disparity in the classes then this is very well done. But if you're looking for a mystery with some plot action more often than every third chapter and characters you enjoy spending some novel time with I do not recommend this book. Also, the narrator pushes the effete snob effect to the nth degree.

2 people found this helpful