Saturday, February 20, 2016

Behind the Shattered Glass

The rich are eccentric where everyone else is merely strange.  Lady Emily's mother, however, has no tolerance for either.  This fact sets up some of the most entertaining scenes in Behind the Shattered Glass, Tasha Alexander's eighth mystery.  Lady Catherine Bromley, wife of an Earl and confidant of Queen Victoria, is *not* amused when her daughter's neighbor staggers across the threshold and dies.  It's just not what one expects when visiting your daughter, her husband Colin, and their infant twins at his family's country seat.  Colin has no choice but to investigate, and (to her mother's chagrin) enlist's Emily's help.

The Hargraveses barely knew the newly elevated Marquess of Montague when he had the gall to die upon their doorstep, but they were mildly acquainted with his cousin Matilda, heir to the title - or so she thinks.  It turns out that there's a missing heir, a young man who's the product of a shunned family line and who has spent his adult life as an explorer and adventurer.  Matilda asks Emily to prove that this *Rodney* person is not the product of a legitimate line, and anyone familiar with the screwball comedies of the 1930s should know that by the end of the book, it won't matter.  More seriously, Emily and Colin also investigate the late Marquess's background, finding him more and more unsavory with every discovery.  Technically a gentleman but no gentleman, he'd misused an Oxford friend and dallied with the vicar's daughter while forming an engagement to an American millionaire's daughter - and that's just what Colin and Emily discover in the first day or so of their investigation.

As she's done with most of her mysteries, Alexander includes a parallel narrative which eventually ties into the main plot.  Lily, an artistically and musically inclined housemaid, tells this part of the story, including backstairs squabbles and potentially important information about the night of the murder.  Lily also catches the attention of Colin's friend Simon, a Duke whose eccentricity includes treating servants like people.

Simon isn't the only person who's chafing at the restrictions of Victorian society.  Emily, as mentioned in A Crimson Warning has joined her mother-in-law in the suffrage movement.  It's a cause Colin can't bring himself to support but he, unlike his wife the Earl's daughter, believes that class distinctions should start falling.  120 years later, they both seem to have giant blind spots but for the time, they're quite progressive.  I liked how Alexander showed that the two can disagree while still gently pushing each other towards their own causes.  I wonder if she's going to take a more political turn in later episodes.  That could be very interesting.

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