The Painted Lady
London, 1670s. To aid their seduction of the beautiful Araminta, four of London’s most dissolute rakes have set up The Society for the Capture of Araminta’s Maidenhood (sic), complete with a financial prize for the victor. They continue their pursuit, even when she marries the staid and ugly Sir Martin Culthorpe, believing that the marriage isn’t consummated.
Then Sir Martin is murdered, which brings the rakes to the attention of Constable Jonathan Bales and his amateur associate, the architect Christopher Redmayne. At first, suspicion falls on another admirer, Villemot, who is painting Araminta’s portrait. But the rakes, too, have a motive: they are all bent on attending Sir Martin’s funeral to pursue the widow. Then, one of them, Christopher’s brother Henry, is seen skulking around Villemot’s studio, and later, Araminta’s portrait goes missing. Can Christopher persuade Henry to co-operate in his investigation? Or does Henry have something to hide?
This is the sixth in the popular series featuring Christopher Redmayne and Jonathan Bales. Restoration London is vividly evoked, and I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the Puritan Jonathan Bales raging against the ungodly, the more tolerant Christopher, and the rakes, who obviously model themselves on the notorious Earl of Rochester.
Caveats: the Press Release emphasizes the ‘authentic detail’, but, at this period, funerals were ‘male only’ affairs – it is unlikely Araminta would have attended. Furthermore, the name Araminta is anachronistic. It was invented by the playwright Congreve in The Old Bachelors (1695). Still, this is an easy, escapist read and I enjoyed it.