The Black Orchid: A Lady Jane Mystery

Written by Annis Bell Edwin Miles (trans.)
Review by Elisabeth Lenckos

Holmes and Watson, make way for wife-and-husband team Lady Jane and Captain David Prescott, amateur detectives intent on solving two ghastly murders—the brutal bludgeoning of a maid on a remote Northumberland estate, and the throttling of an employee at Veitch & Sons, London’s famous purveyor of botanic specimens. These deaths are connected and lead the couple into the underworld of Victorian orchid hunters and growers, who risk everything in order to acquire the prized plants—if necessary, by force. This is 1860s England, when orchids have replaced tulips as the flower of the moment and fetch huge fortunes in the overheated marketplace. The most coveted variety is the black orchid, for which the desperate search rages half a world away. When its ‘discoverer’ arrives from Colombia and turns up at the same manor house where Lady Jane stays with a friend, she and the Captain uncover why the atmosphere at Winton Hall is unbearable. The owner, Sir Frederick Helston, is in a consistent bad temper, and his wife, Charlotte, a hysterical wreck, is unable to control her servants. The mystery solved, the Prescotts return home to Cornwall to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Translated from the German by Edwin Miles, the second installment of Annis Bell’s Lady Jane Mysteries may be enjoyed independently of its predecessor, The Girl at Rosewood Hall. The narrative style is compelling and entertaining; the descriptions of St. Giles and the Victorian demimonde etch themselves into the reader’s memory with Dickensian clarity.