Murder Most Malicious

Written by Alyssa Maxwell
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

In 1918, WWI is over, and scarred and bedraggled Englishmen have returned from the military. Nineteen-year-old Phoebe has lost her parents and, with her sisters, she adjusts to life at her grandparents’ country estate. The Marquis of Allerton arrives to ask for older sister Julia’s hand. But Phoebe overhears them in a cruel argument, and the next day the marquis is missing. When severed fingers end up in Christmas boxes, each with an item owned by the marquis, Phoebe drags her lady’s maid, Eva, into a dangerous investigation that will unlock many secrets. The marquis wasn’t well-liked and was involved in illegal transactions plus the rape of a servant. In this short-handed house, with so many young men killed in the war, Eva has the opportunity to help out in the servants’ quarters and ask questions about the marquis. Phoebe does the same upstairs but gets nothing from her aloof sister, Julia.

The story weaves the upstairs/downstairs dynamic well, and the two young women are engaging characters. The police are mostly incompetent and fail to discover an obvious clue. When the killer is revealed it was a surprise to me – and the protagonists. However, the reasons behind the murder make perfect sense. This novel shows the beginnings of change in a world shattered by war and the dissolving of the privileged class along with more opportunities for the lower ranked. A great read for a rainy day.