Murder Most Civil
Review: Boston socialite Henrietta Newell Cobb's brother, Freddy, stands accused of murder when a prominent abolitionist is killed in his home — Freddy standing over the body of Angus McLaren when it is found — in Murder Most Civil, the first in a series of Victorian mysteries by Karen Frisch.
Henrietta learns of the murder from the man's widow, Myrth, who unexpectedly shows up on her doorstep, having fled the crime scene before the authorities arrived. She also learns, to her shock and dismay, that Myrth and Freddy, a married Harvard professor, had been having an affair. "If [Henrietta's] visitor were to be believed, Freddy was implicated not only in murder but in romance as well." Myrth quickly flees again, leaving Henrietta to visit the McLaren home, where she finds Freddy speaking with the police. The murder weapon is a heavy, marble bust and the victim a large man; Henrietta finds it hard to believe the relatively petite Myrth could have wielded such a weapon, nor can she believe her relatively meek brother could do so either. McLaren's views on slavery were unpopular in Boston, so it's possible someone else may be involved. Still, with the police focusing on Freddy as the culprit, Henrietta begins her own investigation as to who may have wanted McLaren dead.
Murder Most Civil takes place in 1860, and there is a good sense of time and place in the narrative and dialog. Important elements to the story include one's status in society and what is considered prudent and proper conduct among the classes. Clues to the identity of the killer are scattered throughout, and Henrietta makes for a most agreeable amateur sleuth. Red herrings notwithstanding, the overall murder mystery plot is rather complicated — it takes two full chapters at the end to wrap up all the details — and proceeds along at a somewhat leisurely pace; the few action scenes don't stir things up much, but probably would seem out of place if they did.
It isn't clear whether Murder Most Civil is the first in a series to feature Henrietta Newell Cobb, but she is an appealing character and there's certainly some satisfaction in watching her put the pieces of a puzzle together. Her return in a sequel would be welcome.
Acknowledgment: Karen Frisch provided a copy of Murder Most Civil for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Murder Most Civil: Boston, Massachusetts
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Murder Most Civil by Karen Frisch
Publisher: Mainly Murder Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: June 2010
List Price: $14.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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