Mrs. Jeffries Weeds the Plot
This is the latest in the many-volume Victorian Mystery series, starring Mrs. Jeffries. Housekeeper to Inspector Witherspoon, her detective skills far outweigh his, and she and her staff are kept busy solving his mysteries without letting him know they are assisting. In this volume, the independent Annabeth Gentry is a murder target, and Mrs. Jeffries takes the lead in the investigation; the cook, maid, footman, coachman, and assorted hangers-on (including Fred, the dog) discover a tangled tale of dead bodies, vengeful relatives, and cross-Atlantic finances.
Brightwell’s previous work in romance writing shows through in several scenes between Smythe, the coachman, and his fiancée Betsy, the maid, though their reason for postponing their wedding — their avid interest in “snooping,” as they call it — is unconvincing. Also unfortunate is the need to have Inspector Witherspoon as a cover for the group’s mystery-solving. Portrayed as bumbling and at times incoherent, one has to wonder how he has made his way in the world at all, even with the help of Mrs. Jeffries. In terms of setting, there are some realistic Victorian details, though inconsistent attempts at the common language usage of the time detract from the atmosphere.