The Deathly Portent is the second in a series of historical mystery novels featuring Ottilia Fanshawe (also known as Lady Fan). The first in the series is The Gilded Shroud, but it’s not necessary to have read that one first as this is a complete story in itself.
The story is set in England during the Georgian period. Ottilia and her husband Lord Francis are riding home from a visit to Ottilia’s godmother when their coach breaks down near the village of Witherley. When they send their groom to look for the village blacksmith, they discover that Duggleby the blacksmith has been the victim of a murder – and that Cassie Dale, a young woman who has been branded a witch, is being blamed for it.
Ottilia has recently solved a mystery involving her husband’s family and is confident that she will be able to solve this one too. Believing Cassie Dale to be innocent, she begins to investigate in the hope of finding the real murderer and clearing Cassie’s name, but things soon start to become more dangerous than she had expected.
As soon as I started reading this book it reminded me in many ways of a Georgette Heyer novel – the time period, the language, the characters’ names, the dialogue – and so I wasn’t surprised to read that Heyer is one of Elizabeth Bailey’s influences. The appeal of this book for me was really the historical setting and the characters, though I did enjoy watching the mystery unfold too. There were lots of possible suspects, all with different motives for wanting Duggleby dead, and I was kept guessing until the truth was revealed at the end of the book.
One of the reasons I enjoy historical or vintage mysteries is that in the past we obviously didn’t have all the scientific methods of crime-solving that we have today and so detectives had to rely on making careful observations, hunting for clues, and talking to suspects and witnesses. And so Ottilia spends a lot of time getting to know the various residents of the village, listening to gossip and trying to make deductions from what she learns.
I loved Ottilia and Francis as a couple – they are both very easy to like and some of my favourite scenes were the ones in which they both appear together. Ottilia is a strong, intelligent character with a real enthusiasm for detective work and her husband is very supportive, although he can’t help worrying about her, particularly when he thinks she’s putting her life at risk unnecessarily. I’ll be interested to see how their relationship develops in any future novels in this series.
The events of the first Lady Fan novel, The Gilded Shroud, were referred to a few times in this book but not so much that I felt the previous novel had been spoiled. I will probably go back and read it at some point as I enjoyed meeting Lady Fan and would like to see how she solved her first mystery.
I received a copy of The Deathly Portent from the author for review.