It’s 1925. In the 10 years since the death of his wife, Lord Edgington has essentially spent his time sitting in a chair, staring out a window. He’s ignored the day-to-day operation of his Surrey estate, the heart of which is a rambling old house whose number of rooms has never been determined. Edginton has gone his own way in life. The younger of two brothers, he joined Scotland Yard for a career. And then his older brother died in the Boer War, and he became the heir and eventual lord.
Sixteen-year-old Christopher Prentiss, one of the lord’s grandsons, knows his grandfather better than most of the rest of the family. He boards at a nearby school, where he spends considerable time avoiding the bullies, and stays with his grandfather on weekends. But the two seldom talk, and Christopher spends most of his time with the servants or with the lord’s dog Delilah.
Christopher’s mother, father and older brother are among the family members called to the estate in early spring. Also on hand is the oldest daughter Belinda and her ne’er-do-well son George, along with the lord’s son Maitland and his family and the lord’s sister-in-law Clementine, who appears in her dotage and is known for bursting in song without notice. Lord Edgington has decided the time for mourning is past, and he’s going to have a spring ball. And he’s enlisting Christopher to be his assistant in organizing it.
Weeks later, the ball begins. A celebratory toast with an old bottle of champagne doesn’t happen, for Belinda has drunk too much already, gulps her champagne before the others, and promptly drops dead of what turns out to be cyanide poisoning. As the whole family (including Christopher) almost drank the poisoned wine, it’s obvious that someone was out to kill the entire family. The timing is such that the perpetrator must be a family member. But motives, mostly financial, abound. The police arrive to investigate, but Lord Edgington conducts his own investigation, with the help of Christopher.
Murder at the Spring Ball is the first of the Lord Edgington historical mysteries by Benedict Brown. (I started them out of order, first reading the fourth one, The Mystery of Mistletoe Hall.) Told from the perspective of 16-year-old Christopher, the reader gets both a fun mystery (and more than one puzzle) and something of a coming-of-age story
In addition to the five published Lord Edgington stories, a sixth is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2022. Brown has also written seven Izzy Palmer mystery novels and three novellas. A native of south London, he lives with his family in Spain.