A Death By Any Other Name

Written by Tessa Arlen
Review by Lorraine Norwood

Building on the success of the two previous installments of the Lady Montfort mystery series, Arlen reintroduces us to the elegant Lady Montfort and her housekeeper, Edith Jackson, who investigate a murder in a group of amateur rosarians. When the cook at Hyde Castle is accused of poisoning a guest of the Hyde Rose Society, Lady Montfort promises to help clear the woman’s name. She contrives an invitation to Hyde Castle, where the Rose Society is meeting with renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. However, there is more going on with the rose enthusiasts than discussions of black spot and pruning; secret desires and concealed passions are blooming as well. While Lady Montfort and Jackson unravel the whodunit, the winds of war are gathering across the English Channel. The continuing conflict in Prussia and the assassination of the heir to the Austrian Empire act as background to the numerous clues and suspects uncovered.

Arlen’s delightful mix of upstairs and downstairs conveys the complexities of a hidebound class system on the verge of change. The nouveau-riche is exemplified by the owner of Hyde Castle—Mr. Roger Haldane, manufacturer of Haldane’s Hearty Stew and his long-suffering wife, Maud, chairwoman of the Hyde Rose Society. The narrative is helped along by a slew of red herrings, a fast-moving plot, and fine descriptive passages. A thorn in an otherwise excellent book is the dialogue, often stiff and overly abundant. It’s a small complaint, but some judicious pruning would have helped.