A Gentlewoman’s Guide to Murder

Written by Victoria Hamilton
Review by Valerie Adolph

Miss Emmeline St. Germaine, known to her friends as ‘The Avengeress,’ has been rescuing small girls, servants in homes of the wealthy, who are being abused by the gentlemen of the house.

In London of 1810, the plight of young orphans, especially pretty young female orphans, appalls Emmeline. She tries to expose this in her articles for the Prattler newspaper, her identity cloaked by her pseudonym ‘The Rogue’. Sometimes she makes forays into the homes of the wealthy to steal a particularly vulnerable girl away to safety. Unfortunately the night she goes, dressed as the ‘Avengeress’ to rescue little Molly from the clutches of Sir Henry Claybourne is the night that Sir Henry is murdered. Who better to blame than the Avengeress?

Hamilton takes the reader to the London of 200 years ago, alternating delightful glimpses of the social life of the privileged upper classes with the abysmal fate of orphans in orphanages little better than prisons for children. One source of funding for these orphanages might be the sale of their prettiest little girls. Their fate? Being abused until they were no longer young and pretty, then prostitution. Hamilton does not spare the reader the realities of the situation.

Emmeline and her friends manage to break up one particularly vicious group of abusers even at the cost of exposing Emmeline herself to the severely patriarchal domination of her brother. It seems that the injustices of a predominantly patriarchal society have inspired Hamilton to write this novel. Its ending promises the reader that she will be following up with another novel featuring Emmeline St Germaine tackling an injustice suffered by women.

This is a well-researched book, perhaps a little heavy on the moralizing about long-ago evils. Still, it’s a pleasant, well-paced read from a best-selling writer.