Title: A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder (Countess of Harleigh Mystery #4)
Author: Dianne Freeman
Published on: 27 July 2021
Genre: Cozy Mystery (Historical)
A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder is the fourth book in Dianne Freeman’s Countess of Harleigh Mystery series.
Frances, Countess of Harleigh, is happy that her mother is leaving for Paris. Well, Daisy had an issue with the newspapers that Frances reads to England’s weather (which was not in Frances’ control). Daisy and Frances’ daughter, Rose, are leaving for Paris to buy a gown for Frances’ engagement. Frances was to join them, but had to change plans when she and her fiancé, George Hazelton received an invite to attend the events honoring the Romanovs – Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich and his wife, Sophie, Countess de Torby.
Alicia Stoke-Whitney, Frances’ late husband Reggie’s mistress pays her a visit. She’s known for her extra marital affairs and this time, her husband, Arthur Stoke-Whitney, wants to send her away to country – just to keep his name safe from the scandal. Alicia and Frances might not be friends but they have come to an understanding, after all they do have a secret. Reggie was found dead in Alicia’s bed and it was up to Frances and Alicia to put him back in his room and save themselves from a scandal. George Hazelton helped them move Reggie’s body – the same George Hazelton to whom Frances is currently engaged to.
Alicia wants Frances to chaperone her daughter Harriet. Frances had chaperoned her sister Lily and Lily’s friend Lottie during the Season. Alicia worries that if she’s to be sent away to country, Harriet will have no one to take her to her debut. When the two ladies are discussing this matter, Alicia sees Inspector Delaney with a young woman outside George’s door. Frances tells them George is not available at the moment and introduces herself to the young woman as George’s fiancé. The young woman in turn introduces herself as Mrs. George Hazelton.
Frances is still in shock and sends a letter asking George to return to her house immediately. The woman in question is called Irena Teskey. She’s related to the Romanovs, married to George – Frances’ fiancé, is an actress and owns a theatre in London and… oh yes, she might also be related to the Queen. Frances initially wonders if this woman is a wackadoodledoo. But when George recognizes her, Frances feels the ground beneath her cave in. But when Irena says she’s his wife, he tells her otherwise.
Yes, George and Irena know each other. He had rescued her from kidnappers a couple of times – when he was working for the government, that is. But they weren’t married. But Irena refuses to believe George is not her husband. She then tells him of the threatening letters she’s been receiving since she came to London. Inspector Delaney and George ask her where the letters are. She does not remember – it must either be in the theatre or her hotel room.
The next day, Percy Bradmore (played a major role in the previous book), a servant of the government , arrives at Frances’ place claiming he is Irena’s husband. Now Irena herself is confused – she hardly remembers whom she married. Good Lord! Well, at least it is now confirmed that George is not her husband!
Frances and George try their best to contain the rumor of Mrs. George Hazelton’s appearance. (People do not know of Bradmore’s involvement yet.) But when Irena is found dead the next day in Frances’ garden, the news of her murder spreads like wildfire. Some claim Frances and George offed her so that they could marry. While some are downright rude and question Frances what she would do now.
I found this series on the KU catalog and thought of giving it a try. Four books through and this has turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. I absolutely love the characters, a dash of quirky humor and of course, the mystery and the sleuthing. What’s not to like about this series, eh?
The story begins on an amusing note. Well, first it is Daisy, Frances’ mother, and her boss-ism. Then comes Irena – actress in reel and real, as it turns out to be. First, Irena refuses to believe that George is not her husband. When Bradmore comes over and tells her he’s her husband and wants a divorce, she’s confused. She hardly remembers whom she married.
Just a little rewind: when she claims someone’s trying to kill her, George says she can stay with Frances. The next morning, she calls Frances a friend and asks how their last night’s date with her husband go. Lol! Not to forget, Irena is not only a cousin of the Grand Duke but also an actress, owns a theatre in London and, is a far relative of the Queen. It so happens that Irena was not cuckoo – she was, indeed, the Grand Duke’s cousin, and an actress, and owned a theatre.
Well, it is not very amusing when, the next day, Irena is found strangled in Frances’ garden. Inspector Delaney suspects Aunty Hetty, George and Frances of murdering Irena. Friendship or not, Delaney must take into consideration the fact that these three had a lot to gain from Irena’s death – after all, Irena did claim George to be her husband.
Soon after Irena’s murder, the gossip spreads throughout the elite society of London. The press too have got a whiff of the ‘dirty secrets’. It is now up to Frances and George to not only prove their innocence, but also save their engagement.
Halfway through the story, I did feel that the rumors and gossip were getting a bit too much to bear. But then came a twist – goodness gracious, I was like, What the fried-fish! It was no secret that Irena was born to a woman who had an affair with a Russian delegate named Alexei. He is a naval commander and soon after his lover’s death (she was murdered by her husband at childbirth), he let his close-friends look after his daughter, Irena. So, is it possible that her murder had something to do with her royal parentage or her past?
I enjoyed reading A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder. It goes without saying that Dianne Freeman is a master storyteller. I binge read the first four books and have given all a 5-star ratings. Do I need to say more?
Excellent character portrayal. The mystery behind Irena’s outlandish stories (some of which turned out to be true) kept me guessing till the end. The ending was simply marvelous. The identity of the perp was a huge shocker and the events that finally lead to catching them red-handed was executed brilliantly.
I highly recommend this series to all historical cozy mystery fans. If you are looking for an engrossing and completely entertaining cozy mystery, do give A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder by Dianne Freeman a try. Yes, this book can be read as a standalone but I suggest you start from the beginning.