Miss Dido Kent hesitated, her pen suspended over the page. All her education and almost thirty years’ experience of writing letters had not quite prepared her for this situation. As well as she could recall, the rules of etiquette said nothing about the correct way in which to convey the news that she now had to impart. However, her governess had once told her that the very best style of writing was that which gave information simply and clearly without any excess of sensibility.
She dipped her pen into the ink and continued.
There has been a woman found dead here – in the shrubbery – this evening.
She read what she had written, thought for a little while, then added:
It was the under-gardener who found her.
Her sister would wish to be reassured that it was not a member of the family, or one of their guests, who had made the horrible discovery.
Attention Janeites and fans of cozy mysteries: This is going to be good.
In 1805, Miss Dido Kent is summoned to Bellfield Hall to comfort her niece Catherine, whose fiancé has mysteriously disappeared from his own engagement party. Shortly after his disappearance, the body of a young woman is found on the grounds. Coincidence? Catherine is certain her clever aunt can reunite her with her beloved, but as Dido observes his family and their guests and uncovers gossip in the nearby village, she’s increasingly convinced that a reunion is not for the best. As Dido comes closer to the truth, her own safety may be in danger as well.
Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean is rich in period detail, transporting the reader to a different time where a visit to a draper’s shop or a walk down the portrait gallery in a manor house reveals many secrets. The relations between the different social classes are complex and through Dido’s discerning eye we travel upstairs and downstairs, inside the house and out in the village, making the necessary connections to solve the mystery.
The inhabitants and guests in Bellfield Hall are fascinating and complex; just as it’s a mistake for the wealthier guests to dismiss the “shabby little maiden aunt”, all the characters are more than they seem. Everybody, from the languid Patience-playing mistress of the house, to the blustering military houseguest, to the gambling rake and the plain but wealthy sisters he’s courting (yes, both at the same time) has secrets they are concealing. Miss Dido Kent shines as the very capable amateur detective; her elegant wit, sensitive observations, and keen intelligence make her an immediate favorite.
The plot, too, is delightfully intricate. As Dido’s governess instructed, Bellfield Hall has a clear, direct style with no excess sensibility – but as fans of Elinor Dashwood know well, a calm exterior can conceal deep feelings, so rest assured, there is plenty of emotion and tension under the surface. The suspense increases with every chapter, as Dido comes close to finding answers, only to discover more dangerous questions.
Fans of Jane Austen who are well acquainted with the details of her life as well as her novels will delight in the moments of the book which bring to mind their beloved author. But Bellfield Hall is much, much more than just a loving tribute; it’s an intelligent, suspenseful mystery, elegantly written with engaging characters. It will appeal to Jane Austen fans and historical mystery lovers alike.
This winter, be sure to accept the invitation to visit Bellfield Hall with Dido Kent as your guide, and delight in the beauty, suspense, and mystery around every corner. Better yet: as Bellfield Hall promises to be the first in a series of mysteries by Anna Dean featuring Dido Kent, I’m already looking forward to a return visit to Dido’s world.