Mystery review: ‘A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia’ by Clara Benson

September 11, 2016 Review 0

For anyone who read all ten of the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s, this spin-off series is an absolute must. Featuring the gloriously insouciant Freddy Pilkington-Soames, this first book in the new series has all the author’s trademark elegant phrasing and delightful humour, combined with twenties glamour and a gentle murder mystery to be solved. I was a little concerned that Freddy, a comedic bit part in the Angela series, might be too lightweight to carry an entire series on his own, but I needn’t have worried. Freddy turns out to have a very deft hand in managing affairs so that the murderer is brought to justice without his society cronies missing the cocktail hour.

Here’s the plot: the magnificently named Ticky Maltravers is the toast of London high society, adored by everyone—or so it seems, until somebody poisons him over dinner. Now it turns out that numerous people with secrets to hide had every reason to wish him dead. But which of them murdered him? It’s not a spoiler (because it’s in the title) that a number of society figures are being blackmailed by Ticky, so the trick becomes one of keeping all those secrets out of the hands of the police and the newspapers, while also ensuring that the killer doesn’t get away with murder.

In a book like this, the plot isn’t really the point. I guessed the murderer’s identity very early on, so I was able to feel pleasantly smug when I was proved right, but that just means the author dropped enough clues and didn’t cheat by pulling out a long-lost identical twin at the end. The real joy in these books is the authentic writing style, which cleverly evokes the era. The slightly Bertie-Wooster-esque humour had me laughing out loud on almost every page. The danger with this style is that it can veer perilously close to slapstick at times, but for me it never went over the top and worked perfectly to leaven the sometimes lengthy sentence structure.

This book was a joy to read from the very first word, and I loved seeing Freddy taking charge and behaving responsibly, yet without losing his ineffable Freddiness. There was a mild romantic interest, too, which was a nice touch, and I applaud the author for not making the police into idiots or buffoons. Highly recommended. Five stars.

Leave a Reply