Lady Emily and her husband Colin return in this ninth installment of the Lady Emily mystery series. At the Devonshires’ 1897 costume ball, Lady Emily is mistaken for someone else in an Artemis costume, a woman who is posing as the elusive heiress Estella Lamar. (Real photographs from this historic event were taken and examples of the guests and their elaborate costumes can be found here.) When the pretender ends up murdered, Emily, Colin, and their friends Jeremy and Cecile work to track down the murderer, but why was this woman pretending to be Ms. Lamar and, more importantly, where is the real Ms. Lamar now? The world-traveling heiress owns three houses, all fully staffed, that she never visits. Pictures of her on her various jaunts across the globe appear in the newspapers, but no one can reliably contact her. The search takes the group to Paris where they track down an heiress who clearly does not want to be found.
As I read this book, Estella Lamar and her collection of fully-staffed but long empty mansions instantly brought to mind the real-life heiress Huguette Clark of “Empty Mansions” fame. (“Empty Mansions” is reviewed here.) Like Ms. Clark, the fictional Ms. Lamar is an elusive, mentally imbalanced woman of excessive means, someone poorly suited to life outside her protected, pampered walls. Ms. Alexander mentions the similarity between the fictional and the factual in her author’s note, and the overlaps are fascinating.
As I mentioned in my review of “Behind the Shattered Glass“, Ms. Alexander excels at vivid description, whether the setting is a London residence such as Devonshire House, a drawing room in Derbyshire, or the famous Parisian cemetery Pere Lachaise. Diving into one of her books is like time traveling to Victorian England – a simply delightful escape with characters who are so witty, charming, and engaging that you don’t want to miss a minute in their company. This series is a joy to read.
Amazon link is here.