A Stroke of Malice (A Lady Darby Mystery)

Written by Anna Lee Huber
Review by Valerie Adolph

In this latest of the Lady Darby mysteries, Kiera and her husband Gage are in Scotland, celebrating Twelfth Night at Sunlaws Castle, the 284-room Gothic home of the Duke and Duchess of Bowmont. It is January 1832, and the weather is cold and snowy. Indoors a large assembly of the aristocracy is ready and willing to party wildly. A group of guests, including Kiera and Gage, is led by the Lord of Misrule down a dank, dark tunnel reputed to be haunted. Instead of a ghost they find the body of a man, dead for some time, with all identifying features removed. Assuming it to be the missing Lord Helmswick, the pregnant Kiera and her attentive husband start to unravel the mystery of his disappearance and possible death, distracted by the sheer volume of affaires, mistresses, and illegitimate sons and daughters present at the party.

In many ways this seems like a Regency romance, except that the protagonists are a married and affectionate couple. The vast old castle with its opulent furnishings, liveried staff and over-the-top party costumes and decorations makes a suitably grand and atmospheric setting. The characters – dukes and their duchesses, lords, ladies, butlers, valets, cads and bounders – all dressed in finery appropriate to their status – add to a richly detailed narrative. The author holds all this together with a perceptive emotional tone that transcends the details of plot and setting. The identity of the dead body, the motive and identity of the killer, and the unknown attacker who tries to harm Kiera, all add suspense to the novel.

Richly detailed and complex, this novel will delight anyone who enjoys mystery and suspense wrapped in period costume.