The Gilded Shroud
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Book Description from Back Cover (slightly modified):
A maid finds her dead mistress sprawled across a disheveled four-poster bed with a bruised neck. Emily, wife of the Marquis of Polbrook, had been strangled in the night. The last thing Emily's brother-in-law, Lord Francis Fanshawe, expects to find so soon after the crime is an adept investigator newly arrived as a temporary lady's companion to his elderly mother.
Ottilia Draycott is intelligent, resourceful, and observant. She quickly becomes the family's hope for establishing the innocence of the marquis, despite his sudden disappearance that same night and a declared wish that Emily was no longer his wife. Then a priceless heirloom and some jewelry goes missing from the scene of the crime. Only Ottilia can piece together what happened that fateful night and discover the murderer.
The Gilded Shroud is a historical romance set in 1789 in England. There is a puzzle-mystery to solve that brings the romantic pair together, but the story reads primarily like a "clean" romance. The clues were not hidden or obscured, so the "whodunit" was very guessable even from the start of the book.
While it was verbally acknowledged that the heroine was unconventional for the time period, everybody loved her unconventional manner and skills. Everyone cooperated with her, so solving the mystery was just a matter of asking the right questions of the right people in order to discover the full picture of what happened.
The characters were interesting and enjoyable. There wasn't much suspense since there were no barriers to the investigation, a lack of danger to anyone (at least, that they knew), and even the romance was a matter of slowly growing to admire the other person and acknowledging that at the end. Despite that, the pacing never felt slow to me. It was a relaxing read, which can be very nice.
Interesting, vivid historical details about everyday life and the wider political events were woven into the story and brought it alive in my imagination.
There was a minor amount of explicit bad language that modern readers might be offended by. There were no sex scenes, though sex was vaguely referred to throughout the story. Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable novel.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt from Chapter One
The chambermaid, creeping into my lady's room to light the fire, noticed nothing amiss. Prey to all the discomforts of a cold in the head, with her hearing muffled, Sukey was unaware of the unusual silence. Nor could any unpleasant odour penetrate beyond the thickness of a stuffed-up nose. Indeed, her concentration was intent upon trying not to sniff too loudly, for fear of disturbing her mistress's rest.
With deft and practised movements, she went about her accustomed task with the minimum of noise, scraping out last night's ashes and setting fresh coals and faggots in their place. When it came to blowing up the embers to encourage a fitful flame, however, the shortness of breath induced by Sukey's condition made her cough involuntarily.
Catching a hand to her throat, the chambermaid paused in her work, her fearful head automatically turning towards the great four-poster behind her, poised for the slightest sign of wakening within.