The Lady Montfort series set in England in the early 1900s features amateur sleuths Clementine, the Countess of Montfort and Edith Jackson, her housekeeper.
Edith Jackson is a senior servant to the Earl of Montfort at his gracious Elizabethan country house Iyntwood, second-in-command in a servants’ hall of fifteen resident servants. Although Mrs. Jackson, aged thirty-five, is unmarried she is given the title of Mrs. out of respect. She is a handsome woman, not given to too much chatter and sometimes a little unbending as to the rules, but with a well-developed if rather wry sense of humor. A gifted organizer with a flair for making any grand occasion elegant, in this day and age she would make a very successful living as an event planner. In 1913 she is simply a housekeeper.
Today is Saturday and Mrs. Jackson’s day begins at half past six as twenty guests, accompanied by their maids and valets, will be arriving in time for tea at five ‘o clock for a shooting party. After breakfast Mrs. Jackson supervises the final preparations for their arrival. Each room in the house must be immaculate and welcoming, the food exquisite and every detail of their guests’ comfort assured. At eleven o’clock she does a tour of the guest wing to make sure that fresh flowers have been placed in all the bedrooms, that they are stocked with the latest copies of the Tatler, the Daily Sketch and Country Life, writing paper, cigarettes and Vichy water. She checks the guest list against the name cards that are placed on each door before she climbs the backstairs to the fourth floor of the house and the servants’ quarters to check that all is ready for the visiting servants – three to a room for this busy weekend!
Back belowstairs she meets with the butler, Mr. Hollyoak and the cook, Mrs. Thwaite, to run through the menus once again for the next three days. An abundant breakfast will be laid out in hot chafing dishes on the sideboard of the large dining room for male guests, while trays are taken up to women guests in their rooms. After a hearty breakfast the sportsmen will set off for a day’s shooting to be joined by their wives for luncheon.
Mrs. Jackson arranges for luncheon to be served in the pavilion by the lake at one o’clock each day. It will be taken down in a wagon, well wrapped up in hay boxes and blankets to keep the soup hot. Game pie, cold chicken or salmon, and salads will be served with fresh fruit and cheese and one of Mrs. Thwaite’s exquisite puddings.
At five o’clock everyone one will be back at the house, ravenous from a day in the fresh air, for a lavish tea in the library: a variety of tiny sandwiches, hot scones with strawberry jam, Victoria sponge and fruit cakes, and little trays of brandy snaps filled with cream. Mrs. Jackson reminds the housemaids to keep the fires going and to tidy every room in the house as soon as it has been vacated.
The biggest challenge that faces the staff is dinner –timing is everything and Mrs. Thwaite’s delicious food must be faultlessly presented. The footmen are drilled on the menus, their white gloves and livery inspected. Mrs. Jackson and Mr. Hollyoak discuss which china to use –Sevres, or the Royal Doulton? Once again Mrs. Jackson checks her pantry inventory: is the fish sent up from Billingsgate perfectly fresh? Are there enough oysters? A haunch of venison is carried in. Cream and butter is delivered from the estate dairy and the hall boy is sent to the ice house for more ice. Wagons have been arriving all morning in the kitchen courtyard with fresh vegetables and fruit from the kitchen garden. Amid the bustle of final preparations Mrs. Jackson is everywhere at once!
With no time for lunch she is on her way to the kitchen garden to meet with the gardener to choose flowers for the house before she returns to the servants’ hall for a quick cup of tea. And then with the help of the first and second housemaids, Agnes and Elsie, she rolls up her sleeves and for the next three hours they arrange the fresh blooms in urns and vases of evergreens to be carried away to the morning room, drawing rooms, the great hall, the library, and the large dining room for the table. Mrs. Jackson makes a final inspection before she goes upstairs to report to Lady Montfort that all is ready.
Lady Montfort, dressed to receive her guests, is waiting for her. With three discrete murder inquiries successfully solved between them, their relationship has grown over the years from that of mistress and servant to one that we might call friendship. Lady Montfort knows her guests will be well taken care of and that their every need will be anticipated. And who knows what will happen with all these people in the house? If a body turns up in the library Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson will put their heads together and with discretely phrased questions, Mrs. Jackson below stairs, and the intuitive Lady Montfort upstairs, they will certainly piece together the puzzle!
You can read more about Edith in A Death By Any Other Name, the third book in the “Lady Montfort” mystery series.
Building on the success of her last two mysteries in the same series, Tessa Arlen returns us to the same universe full of secrets, intrigue, and, this time, roses in A Death By Any Other Name. The elegant Lady Montfort and her redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, investigate a murder among a group of amateur rose-breeders while the idyllic English summer days count down to the start of WW1.
When Mrs. Jackson receives a visit from a cook who believes she was an indirect witness to murder from a poisoned dish of breakfast kedgeree Lady Montfort promises to do what she can to clear the cook’s name, and contrives an invitation to Hyde Castle, the home of a self-made millionaire, to investigate a murder of concealed passions and secret desires. With the help of the invaluable Jackson Lady Montfort sets about solving the puzzle surrounding the death of the rose society’s most popular member and discovers a villain of audacious cunning among a group of mild-mannered, amateur rose-breeders.
While they investigate, the headlines bring news of the continuing conflict in Prussia following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian empire. As each day brings more threatening news and the very real fear that Britain will be drawn into war Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson must race the clock to solve the mystery before Britain declares on Germany.
Brimming with intrigue, Tessa Arlen’s latest does not disappoint.
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Meet the author
Tessa Arlen is the author of the Lady Montfort mystery series. Her first book Death Of A Dishonorable Gentleman was a 2016 finalist for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The latest in her series: A Death By Any Other Name releases March 2017. As the daughter of a British diplomat Tessa had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Berlin, Bahrain, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She and her family live on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Connect with Tessa at www.tessaarlen.com.
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A Death By Any Other Name is available at retail and online booksellers.