Murder in Westminster (The Lady Worthing Mysteries, 1)

Written by Vanessa Riley
Review by Misty Urban

Abigail Carrington, daughter of an English solicitor and a West Indian seer, secured herself a respectable name when she married explorer Lord Worthing. Respect isn’t easily accorded a Blackamoor woman in 1806 Britain. Abbie’s clandestine work in support of abolition is derailed when her neighbor’s wife is found strangled near the fence between their properties. Juliet Henderson was known for her infidelities, but Stapleton Henderson, a naval hero who served with Nelson, swears he isn’t the murderer. Lady Worthing decides to winnow out the truth, but as casualties mount, the suspects narrow. If the sister isn’t responsible, the violent brother has an alibi, and Juliet’s handsome lover is a man of God, then Stapleton must be lying. Is Abbie risking her own neck by trusting a killer?

The many and varied conflicts demand that the reader slow and savor, and layers of backstory thicken the plot. Along with the puzzle around Juliet’s affairs, Abbie is in search of a missing sister, haunted by her mother’s legacy of visions, and concerned about her husband’s absence; Worthing, it seems, married her largely from gratitude after she cleared his name of a crime. In addition, Abbie has history with the lively characters who comprise her adopted family: mathematical Florentina, good-looking Wilson Shaw, and power broker Mr. Vaughn, also considered Blackamoors in the white world of Regency Britain.

Riley’s prose is unique, nestling a lush, lavish image next to a swift, chopping realization. Her characters are opaque, hiding more than they reveal, and readers are kept on their toes guessing whence the next threat will arrive. The book is an absorbing experience, a complicated mystery rooted in the compelling historical struggle for abolition that navigates the nuances of race and class with a heroine the reader can’t help but love. Highly recommended.