Heirs and Assigns: The Herbert Reardon Historical Mysteries, #1

Written by Marjorie Eccles
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In Shropshire, England, in 1928, wealthy Penrose Llewellyn invites his family and friends to his country manor for his 60th birthday celebration. Among them are Penrose’s sister and her daughter, Penrose’s younger brother and his wife, plus his seedy-looking youngest brother, who has shown up after an absence of 24 years. The family physician, Doctor Fairlie, is present, but there is also an uninvited guest, the housekeeper’s nephew, surreptitiously dining in the kitchen. All have their own axes to grind with Penrose.

After dinner, Penrose announces, to the astonishment of his guests, his engagement to Anna, a landscape architect. While most of the relatives are pondering the likely changes in Penrose’s will, the exhausted man is helped to bed by Fairlie. In the morning, Penrose is found dead. Although Fairlie signs the death certificate, Anna is not satisfied. When the autopsy shows indications of foul play, Detective Inspector Reardon and Sergeant Gilmour are called in to investigate. Despite their intense questioning, and the occurrence of another suspicious death, no one seems to be telling the whole truth. It will take the discovery of a buried skeleton of a dog to provide important clues.

Marjorie Eccles has introduced DI Reardon in this new mystery series remarkably well. It is not only set in the Downton Abbey period, but the writing captures the nuances and cultural peculiarities of that era superbly, particularly the language—which includes some delightful slang. Told in the style of a police procedural, the vivid narrative includes the background and idiosyncrasies of the large cast of characters. While engrossed in the murder mystery, we are transported to the post-WWI period, with its sights and sounds, and learn of its influence on the characters. The abundance of red herrings keeps us guessing the perpetrator up to the ending.