At the opening of Sara Rosett’s entertaining historical mystery set in 1923, Murder at Archly Manor, Olive Belgrave is getting a bit desperate. She is looking for a job so that she can set herself up in London, away from her father’s manor in rural England. (This is mostly because of her fear of being “managed” by her new step-mother.) Olive, who doesn’t have many practical skills, is turned down over and over. When she gets an invitation to visit from her cousin, Gwen, Olive jumps at it to get some respite from her increasingly dire situation. At least she’ll be able to get regular meals, at least for a few days.
At Gwen’s home, Olive receives a surprising job offer from her aunt, in spite of her lack of skills. the job is to find out more about the smarmy fiancé of her other cousin. Alfred Eton is a little too vague about his past. He’s also made a couple of slip ups, Olive’s aunt says, that make it clear that he was not raised to be a gentleman. Olive happily agrees when her aunt offers to pay. Besides, Gwen is Olive’s best friend as well as family.
Olive’s inaugural case takes her into the Bright Young People set, who drink too much, party too hard, drive too fast, and spend far too much money. (There are a lot of delicious details about the women’s clothes.) Olive has only just started her frustrating investigation into Alfred’s background when she gets a chance to see the man up close, in the company of his friends and godfather at the godfather’s Archly Manor. Olive blends in fairly well, in spite of her recent impoverishment. That said, she isn’t blind to the many faults and character flaws on display among the guests. Things get even more complicated and scandalous when Olive and other guest see Alfred pushed off a balcony by a small, blonde woman. Within a couple of days, Olive’s brief changes from “who is this guy?” to “how can I make sure that my cousin does not get arrested for her fiancé’s murder?”
The puzzle in Murder at Archly Manor has some fun twists, but the plot is somewhat marred by a revelation late in the book that I didn’t quite buy. I didn’t mind so much, though. I was having too much fun spending time with Olive. I love Olive’s sharp observations and private amusement at the absurdities around her. I look forward to seeing Olive again, as well as her dashing sort-of partner in investigation, Jasper.