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Spring 1763. Career diplomat Alec Halsey returns to London to the shocking news his estranged brother, the Earl of Delvin, has not only killed his friend in a duel but is engaged to the woman Alec hoped to marry. The dead man’s mother wants Alec to investigate, so he reluctantly attends a weekend house party celebrating the engagement. Houseguests get more than they bargained for when a lady’s maid is murdered, the bride-to-be is attacked, and a guest is shot dead. Uncovering a connection between these sinister acts and his brother’s duel, Alec confronts a cruel twist of fate and why his brother will go to any lengths to ruin him in Polite Society.
Publisher and Release Date: Springleaf Pty Ltd, January 2015
Time and Setting: England, 1763
Genre: Historical Mystery/Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Wendy
Deadly Engagement is a primarily a murder mystery which also features a gently moving romance that does not detract from the devious and sinister goings on.
Alec Halsey has returned from an overseas assignment with the Foreign Department after an eight month absence. A highly intelligent man left to make his way in the world, he is the second son of an earl who nevertheless revels in being allowed to be his own man. I found this description of him early in the story set the scene and firmly embedded him in my mind:
But there was no insolence in the kind, friendly blue eyes that crinkled at the corners; no fancy airs and affected voice like so many visitors to St. Neot’s house. Even the clothes this gentleman wore were not out of the ordinary – no silver lacings, no frothy lace at his wrists, no diamond buckles in the tongue of his leather shoes – just good dark cloth, a plain linen cravat, and shoes without high heels.
Alec and his brother Edward, the Earl of Delvin are at complete odds with each other. Widely believed to have been the result of an affair on the part of his mother, Alex was disowned by his father and brought up by his eccentric uncle, Plantaganet Halsey. Rumours, however, persist that Alex is in fact the elder son, but although Alec has no interest whatsoever in the earldom, his brother doubts this and always sarcastically refers to Alec as “Second”.
Thwarted in love six years previously when the woman he loved was forced to renounce him and compelled to marry against her will, Alec still believes that if she had truly loved him she would have eloped with him when given the chance. Now Selena Jamieson-Lewis is newly widowed, having suffered for her decision with six horrifying years of brutality at the hands of her late husband. Alec nevertheless believes himself ready to move on, but returns to find the object of his flimsy affection, Emily, granddaughter of his godmother Olivia, Duchess of St-Neot’s, just affianced to his despised brother.
Alec has also returned to a mystery. Jack Belsay, an old school friend and Selena’s cousin has died following a duel with Delvin that was fought under rather suspicious circumstances. Alec is asked to investigate by Jack’s grieving mother and although there is no love lost between them, he is not happy to believe his brother guilty of murder. He reluctantly attends the house party arranged to celebrate the engagement of Devlin and Emily – but the proceedings are interrupted by murder, attempted rape, attempted blackmail and some pretty promiscuous behaviour. All the while Delvin, with the aid of Justice Lord Gervais is intent on pointing the finger of suspicion at Alec.
While all this is going on, Alec and Selena begin to rekindle their lost love, although as I said previously this in no way overshadows the mystery – it just adds a spark.
Narrator Alex Wyndham’s perfect pitch and range of voices is quite remarkable. Alec Halsey comes over as honourable and intelligently sexy, always recognisable even when in conversation with others of a similar age, such as his friend Cosmo, who is depicted as bouncy and ‘hale-fellow-well-met’. There is one conversation which sticks in my mind between the Duchess of St-Neot’s – elderly and plummy voiced – and the outrageous and belligerent Plantagenet Halsey which is hilarious, the Duchess’ voice getting higher and higher and the gravely undertones of Uncle Plan trying to pacify her. It’s a long conversation and Mr Wyndham carries it off with skill and humour. The description in the book of Justice Lord Gervais is “fleshy florid face and a morose disposition” and Mr Wyndham nails him, the grumpy, cocky know-it-all judge, is immediately recognisable whenever he speaks, showing his dislike and distaste for Plantagenet Halsey who winds him up and then walks away on numerous occasions – one can almost hear the steam erupting from his ears! The book boasts a magnificent cast of characters, all of whom are perfectly captured by Alex Wyndham, whose evident enjoyment of the telling of the story is obvious.
Lucinda Brant’s research into the fashions, furnishings and customs of the period are stunning and descriptive. I was sorry the story ended on a bit of a cliff hanger as far as Alec and Selena are concerned but there are more books in the series which I hope will rectify that! The plot, with its twists and turns, kept me riveted and the outcome is very clever.
Overall, Deadly Engagement is a fabulous story, made all the more so by the addition of the fantastic Alex Wyndham. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.