London is known for its bustle and intrigues, but the sedate English countryside can host—or hide—any number of secrets. Frances, the widowed Countess of Harleigh, needs a venue for her sister Lily’s imminent wedding, away from prying eyes. Risings, George Hazleton’s family estate in Hampshire, is a perfect choice, and soon Frances, her beloved George, and other guests have gathered to enjoy the usual country pursuits—shooting, horse riding, and romantic interludes in secluded gardens.
But the bucolic setting harbors a menace, and it’s not simply the arrival of Frances’s socially ambitious mother. Above and below stairs, mysterious accidents befall guests and staff alike. Before long, Frances suspects these “accidents” are deliberate and fears that the intended victim is Lily’s fiancé, Leo. Frances’s mother is unimpressed by Lily’s groom-to-be and would much prefer that Lily find an aristocratic husband, just as Frances did. But now that Frances has found happiness with George—a man who loves her for much more than her dowry—she heartily approves of Lily’s choice. If she can just keep the couple safe from villains and meddling mamas.
As Frances and George search for the culprit among the assembled family, friends, and servants, more victims fall prey to the mayhem. Mishaps become full-blooded murder, and it seems that no one is safe. And unless Frances can quickly flush out the culprit, the peal of wedding bells may give way to another funeral toll…
The Big Thrill caught up to award-winning author Dianne Freeman to discuss her latest cozy mystery, A LADY’S GUIDE TO MISCHIEF AND MURDER:
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Whenever I start digging into historical research, I find some surprises. This time I was surprised by how prevalent arsenic was in ordinary items. It had long been used in medicines and pigments, but in the Victorian era if you wanted a brilliant green in your wallpaper, paint, clothing, or (gulp) candy, you’d use an arsenical pigment. It was a waste product of ore and coal smelting, so it could find its way into your water supply and your beer. It was commonly used by candle makers, doctors, and taxidermists, and because it was easy to ingest arsenic accidentally, it was also a favorite among murderers.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I write cozy mysteries set in the Victorian era with a female protagonist. People tend to believe women of that time had no power—that they were submissive and subject to the whims of society and the males in their families. The truth is that they were just like us. They didn’t have the same rights we have today, but they had the same aspirations and ambitions, and they had the courage and cunning to work around the barriers that stood in their way. Victorian women made great sleuths!
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I’ve always been something of a history buff, particularly personal histories: how people lived in different eras and how they dealt with the challenges life presents. I love crime fiction because it brings on those challenges in spades. Historical mystery is the perfect marriage of the two. It’s very much a social commentary on a particular point in time, not just on crime and punishment, but on the people caught up in the crime or the solving of it. Historical mystery makes for a fascinating glimpse of life in another time.
Dianne Freeman is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award winner, as well as a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award from Mystery Writers of America. She spent thirty years working in corporate accounting and finance and now indulges her love of writing, history, and mystery. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Her third novel in the series, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder, will release in July 2020.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.