Bellfield Hall: Or, The Observations of Miss Dido Kent, by Anna Dean
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books, February 2010
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:
1805. An engagement party is taking place for Mr Richard Montague, son of wealthy landowner Sir Edgar Montague, and his fiancee Catherine. During a dance with his beloved, a strange thing happens: a man appears at Richard's shoulder and appears to communicate something to him without saying a word. Instantly breaking off the engagement, he rushes off to speak to his father, never to be seen again. Distraught with worry, Catherine sends for her spinster aunt, Miss Dido Kent, who has a penchant for solving mysteries. Catherine pleads with her to find her fiance and to discover the truth behind his disappearance. It's going to take a lot of logical thinking to untangle the complex threads of this multi-layered mystery, and Miss Dido Kent is just the woman to do it.
This is one of those novels that I wanted to evoke Georgette Heyer with a dash of Agatha Christie. While straining to do so, the novel starts out with Dido Kent, unprofessional lady sleuth, writing a letter to her sister. This continues off and on throughout the novel and is where the wit shines through regarding Dido's character. Otherwise, Dido seemed a bit annoying and obtrusive. Dido was called by her niece Catherine to visit Bellfield Hall because Catherine's betrothed of two weeks has disappeared. There has been a murder of an unknown woman in the shrubbery. Are these two things related? At first, Dido thinks not. But she has some questions to put forth.
Bellfield Hall has several interesting characters much like your basic game of CLUE. It felt a lot like Dido was roaming from room to room on the CLUE board badgering the other players. It went on like that for days and it takes awhile to get used to before you actually start to understand more of the intricacies behind the two mysterious events at Bellfield Hall. Nothing new was really happening to Dido or around her, except for her unraveling the past with her excellent abilities at detective work. Every now and then Dido considered her personal life and the fact that she never married. One of the interesting duos in the book were the Harris girls who have quite emphatically decided not to marry and this also plagues Dido as she is destined to be a spinster herself.
The entire novel can be summed in a few sentences, but it was full of interesting characters in the quaint Regency setting that lovers of that genre would like. Although it was not fast paced enough to feel like a page turner (are Regencies even supposed to be?), I enjoyed the picturesque setting of Bellfield Hall that other Jane Austen lovers would appreciate, and this is a story that can be summed up as a quaint mystery with a few surprises. There were a few quibbles against probability of certain events that I had thought of along the way, but all in all this was entertaining enough to warrant me looking for book two in the series, A Gentleman of Fortune.