It is 1955. Hugo Hawksworth is an agent with the U.K.’s Special Branch, sent to what is essentially a desk job at a department in rural England. His leg was injured by a shooting in Berlin; he will likely be spending the rest of his life using a cane. In tow is his much younger teenage sister Georgia. Through the assistance of a colleague, Hugo and Georgia settle into temporary lodgings at the castle in Selchester, the ancestral home of the earls of Selchester.
They also settle into a good case of murder. Eight years earlier, the last earl was hosting a dinner party, and apparently walked out into the middle of a blizzard and was never seen again. Without a body, the estate cannot enter probate; there’s no successor to the title of missing earl, as his son and heir was killed during the British occupation of Palestine after World War II. His rather grasping daughter Sonia can’t do anything with the castle until the missing earl’s fate is determined.
And then a leaking pipe requires the digging up of part of the castle’s chapel floor. A skeleton is found, one wearing the ring the earl always wore. And it turns out to be the missing earl. The people who were the earl’s dinner guests, including his now-deceased son and his niece Freya Wryton, turn into suspects. The police are eager, perhaps too eager, to pin the murder on the dead son. But nothing is that simple.
Elizabeth Edmondson’s A Man of Some Repute is complicated, but no more so than any of the kind of English mysteries we associate with Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Ngaio March and other classic English mystery writers. It’s full of hidden papers, family passions, and occasional twists and turns. It held my interest to the very last page.
Edmondson is a writer of historical mysteries. She’s written several set in Italy, the French Riviera, Dorset and even on an ocean liner. The stories are set in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
A Man of Some of Repute, published in July, is the first of Edmondson’s “Very English Mysteries,” and will be followed later this month by A Question of Inheritance, set in Selchester and with the same leading characters. She also writes as Elizabeth Aston (she is one busy writer!).
Hugo and the Selchester niece Freya work together to try to solve the mystery, with occasional help from the high-spirited sister Georgia and Hugo’s uncle Leo, a Catholic priest. As they learn more about what actually happened on the night of the dinner in 1947, they uncover a series of ugly family stories, with national security implications. And while the book is not a romantic mystery, Edmondson is masterful at creating the expectation of romance between Hugo and Freya, without a single direct reference to any romance at all.
A Man of Some Repute is a fully satisfying mystery. I’m looking forward to its successor.
Photograph by Karen Arnold via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. (The photo is actually of Arundel Castle, similar to but not the actual setting for A Man of Some Repute.)