Miss Dido Kent is an unmarried gentlewoman of some 35 years. In this second book of the series set in 1806 and showing the lifestyles of the gentry and their dependents, the young relative whom she is visiting is foolish and therefore, to Dido, slightly boring. Visiting a succession of relatives is Dido’s fate, and the vehicle through which she can continue her mystery solving. Her fate, because she is unmarried and without money. Her relatives invite her to stay with them either when they have need of her. Pretty, empty-headed cousin Flora’s husband is away on business, and it will be a comfort to the young woman (as well as, we do not doubt, her husband) to have her clever cousin Dido to keep her company. Author Anna Dean, hereby presents a credible way to offer Dido new mysterious events to solve without having her audience need to suspend its disbelief too very much about all the murder and mayhem she encounters. The events of the series will not all occur in the one family, one small village, or neighborhood.
The mystery in this book concerns the assisted departure from this life of one Mrs. Lansdale. By all accounts, she was a difficult woman. However, she left behind a lovely fortune and a most attractive young nephew to inherit it. Richmond, the charming and proper new suburb of London where all this takes place, also harbors Mrs. Midgely, a disagreeably gossiping harridan who seems determined to bring the young man to book. Cousin Flora wants her clever cousin Dido to clear his name, because no one that attractive and charming could possibly be guilty of murder. Mrs. Midgely is recently widowed and has, in addition to a paid companion living in her household, her husband’s ward, a lovely young woman whom she is recently determined to place as a governess. The neighborhood also evinces a very lively interest in the recent marriage of their old friend Sir Joshua Carisbrooke to a lovely, talented, and very much younger woman.
It is Dido’s task to solve the mysteries: the death of Mrs. Lansdale, the reason for Mrs. Midgely’s determination to find Mr. Landsdale guilty, the identity of Mrs. Midgely’s ward, the mystery surrounding her companion, and an explanation of the quick and romantic Carisbrooke marriage. Dido’s skills in observation and in understanding the ramifications of what she has seen allow her to clear all these entangled mysteries large and small. The interconnection of all the puzzles of the neighborhood is very cleverly done, although one of the strands probably does not bear close scrutiny. Her reasoning abilities allow her to resolve everything in a timely manner; she not only solves the mystery of the death, she also clears the other problems without scandal, thereby depriving Mrs. Midgely of further nastiness.
It is this same clever mind that has kept Dido single: determined not to marry where she does not love, she has avoided or turned down several proposals. But without money of her own, she is continuously dependent upon the kindness of her family, and the story shows that this dependence could have a shaky foundation. Mr. Lomax, the steward she met at Belfield Hall in the book of that name, is able once again to provide some assistance as well as romantic interest for Dido, but his wishes to protect her from harm and to keep her from meddling she cannot bear. However, Mr. Lomax is not going to be easily deterred, we readers have the feeling that he will overcome her concerns and waverings over the course of the next few books. We can all look forward to Dido’s clearing more suspicious events in other interesting stately homes and neighborhoods.