*I received a free copy of this book with thanks to the author and to Emma Welton of damppebbles blog tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: After years spent away, Lady Evelyn is at long last back in her home city of London and she has returned with a rather controversial plan. The Carlisle Detective Agency is born, and it does not take long for the bodies… ahem, cases, to start piling up. With her friend and assistant Hugh, Evelyn embarks on the quest to solve the crimes. Yet the London she encounters is not the London of her coddled youth, and she is forced to learn that there is more to discover than the identity of a murderer. It isn’t only her city which reveals it is not what she always believed it to be, but the people she encounters as well. Secrets are revealed that have her thinking twice about everything she thought she knew about the society in which she grew up.
Evelyn’s love for her hard-won independence confronts her with yet another mystery, whether she is ready or willing to give up any of it for marriage. And then there is the arrival of rather a familiar face in London, one Daniel is none to pleased to see. Evelyn must find not one but two murderers, as well as make a decision that could determine her future. From the mansions of Mayfair to the dark alleys of Whitechapel, can Evelyn catch the killers before another life is taken?
Whilst this is book five in the Lady Evelyn Mystery series, I am going to break my usual mould and state that this book stands perfectly well alone and can hook in a new reader as easily as it will delight a regular fan. That’s no reason not to go ahead and read the whole series anyway though… you won’t regret it!
To say that this series harks back to the cosy mysteries of the golden age of crime is actually to undersell what Malia Zaidi has created here.
The bones of the murder mystery itself – the murder, the victim, the suspects – all do fall into that pattern of a ‘nice little puzzle’ for the grey cells of both sleuth and reader to unravel, however that skeletal outline has been fully fleshed out and clothed in some incredibly well-written historical fiction that encompasses touches of romance and humour, along with deeper commentaries on the social and political issues of England in the 1920s.
Lady Evelyn Carlisle is an endlessly fascinating main character, as she is constantly evolving, not just from book to book, but from chapter to chapter. It is her curiosity and sense of justice that lead her to get involved in murder investigations in the first place, but also that lead her to look at the social injustices around her and attempt to learn and adjust her attitudes and behaviours accordingly. She is also perfectly poised between the old and new, as her modern sensibilities and ambitions war with her familiarity with the more traditional mores and morals of upper-class society.
This is particularly noticeable here as there are actually two murder mysteries to solve: one, a wealthy factory owner who has made himself generally disliked; the other, a poor man, broken by war, debt, pride and addiction. The parallel cases, with their similarities and differences, allow Zaidi to explore the class system of the period, and her characters’ reactions to the results.
Not that the author forces a morality tale! Entertainment is certainly not forgotten either, as Evelyn attempts to get her new detective agency venture up and running, dodge a double-wedding with her formidable aunt, juggle various admirers, help her friends and employees, plan her own wedding, and somehow fit in solving two murder cases as well. And all with her delightful blend of quick wits and kindness.
The Quality of Mercy is a slow-paced mystery – thoughtful and well-mannered – which immerses the reader thoroughly in the place and period, and unfolds a story that is as much about deeper issues and character relationships as it is about a detective plot. I hope this series runs on and on, and continues to go from strength to strength. I can’t wait for the next instalment!
Turning away from Pall Mall, I head north to King Street. It is a quiet area and I wonder whether I’ve made a mistake, looking for a place here. The Carlisle Detective Agency will have to build its base by word of mouth, I think, rather than bold-faced advertisement. I trust many clients will be soothed by these lovely surroundings and if I am being entirely honest with myself, I must acknowledge that only those with some means will think to contact a detective agency in the first place. I am not so naïve as to believe I will be solving the secrets of the East End gangs – nor do I wish to, I might add!
– Malia Zaidi, The Quality of Mercy
Don’t forget to check out the other blog stops on the tour for more great reviews and content (see the poster below for details)!