As I said in a previous post, I was in a writer’s group where we read each others “very” rough drafts, about ten pages per week, and made comments. That was where I also learned much about the Regency romance period. It was fascinating, how they coped with simple things like activities of daily living. It gave me a new appreciation for the parts of a story that aren’t written, but none the less are part of what helps give depth to the book.
That was my experience with The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman. What I learned in the writer’s group helped me understand some of the actions that weren’t specifically stated in the book. I understood more about the reasoning of the main character, who had to carefully balance her desire to solve a murder while making sure she didn’t run afoul of current moral standards. It wasn’t essential to enjoying the book, but it was helpful.
That’s one of the side benefits of reading, even light fiction. The reader gets the benefit of any research done by the author without having to do the work themselves. While it’s not good enough if you are writing a formal paper or trying to do complete historic research for a project, it is great when you are wanting to enjoy some light reading while understanding some of the underlying factors that motivate the characters.
Rarely do I read any book that I don’t learn something new or encounter a phrase that strikes me in a particular way or in some way get more out of the book than entertainment. So, if you’re looking for an easy way to experience the Regency Period in England, this is a book worth reading. You get a well-crafted mystery with the bonus of a slight history lesson. Here’s my review.
The first in a proposed new series, featuring widow Lily Adler, THE BODY IN THE GARDEN successfully combines an historical fiction with a cozy mystery. Mrs. Adler is returning to society after the first year of mourning, and has rented a house in London. She is rejoining society with the help of her good friend Serena Walter. From the beginning it is clear that Lily, while enjoying the society aspect, has no desire to be a traditional woman of the period, finding another husband and settling down again to married life.
She has just moved into her rented home in London when her friend, Serena, drops by to insist she attend a party at Serena’s home that evening. Although she protests, Lily allows herself to be persuaded by Serena. The reader is then treated to a quick peak as Lily takes a turn around the ballroom. There is just enough information to make the reader aware of the period, including costumes, people, and places; without being overloaded with information about the period.
Mrs. Adler is a delightful character who enjoys having one foot in the typical society of the day while at the same time is enough of a rebel to want to be unconventional in some of her actions. This explains her reluctance to pursue another husband as well as eventual activities that go beyond being interested in solving a murder to becoming actively involved.
The justification for Lily’s interest comes largely from a deep seated desire to see justice done and a realization that the legal authorities have agreed to suspend investigation of the murder. She is introduced as an independent woman who follows her own sense of morality, and this is consistent with her decisions regarding investigating the murder herself. She is aided by her husband’s best friend, Jack; and a young heiress Ofelia; who, along with the victim, is from the West Indies. Rounding out the primary characters is Mr Page, a Bow Street Runner, which is the term used for policemen of the day.
While there are some rigid behaviors that are consistent with what was required of society in this era, Lily and her fellow detectives are a compilation of conventional and unconventional personalities that lend additional color to the book. Lily is particularly independent, and supported in this independence by Jack, and accepted by others who come to know her. There is some indication that there may be a romantic relationship develop between Lily and Jack, and there is also some indication that the same may occur between Lily and Mr. Page. I would anticipate these relationships to be further developed later in the series.
As for the mystery, it is well plotted and Lily does a good job of combining investigative skills with activity to pursue the solution to the murder. The victim is a young man from the West Indies who has come to London in pursuit of Ofelia and Lily overhears him trying to blackmail someone in the garden. He is subsequently shot and killed and it’s up to Lily to find out the reason for the blackmail which should lead to the murderer.
The situation is complicated because there is some possibility the murderer is Serena’s husband. What will Lily do if that turns out to be the case? Ofelia is also not the typical society heiress of the time, as she is mixed race. She is extremely wealthy, which allows her to move in the highest realm of society; but who knows what is being whispered about her behind all the women’s fans. While Ofelia isn’t romantically interested in the murder victim, she does have a sense of responsibility for him. She also has a secret that Lily is determined to uncover, as it might have a bearing on the murder.
The pacing is good, the plot is believable, and the characters are enjoyable people. I look forward to reading more adventures of Mrs. Adler, hopefully along with some of these same characters who help round out the story. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries and who might enjoy the addition of the historical fiction aspect of the novel. My thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital read copy in exchange for an unbiased review.
Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest. Regardless of the book you choose, you could do lots worse than giving yourself some relaxation time with a good one. Happy Reading.