A Death in Norfolk (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #7)

A Death in Norfolk - Ashley Gardner Captain Lacey is back, and James Denis calls in one of his "favors"...Lacey has agreed to attend a country house party with his paramour, Lady Breckenridge. Lady B and Lacey are making plans to marry in the new year, and Lady B wants Lacey to meet an old frenemy of hers in the country. The estate happens to be near where Lacey grew up, in Norfolk, so Lacey takes the opportunity to revisit his boyhood home, now falling in ruins since his father spent every last dime and then some of the Lacey money. But James Denis demands that Lacey work off part of his "debt" by having Lacey call upon a neighbor (Easton) and deliver a message from Denis. Of course, Lacey reads the message first, as Denis knows he will. But Lacey can't understand the cryptic sentence, so he delivers the message, as asked.Except that once Easton receives the message instantly blanches and tells Lacey that the message is really a message from Denis that he'll have Easton killed. So Lacey helps Easton get away in the night... and then faces Denis' thugs (Cooper and Ferguson) in the morning at Easton's home. Seems that Easton had been hiding away some very valuable paintings that belong to Denis, and Denis' message was to let Easton know that Denis wasn't sitting still.Cooper and Ferguson start demolishing Easton's house, on orders from Denis, who himself arrives to take up residence in Easton's home. (Turns out Denis owns the home, too.) In the meantime, Cooper and Ferguson have orders to demolish Lacey's abandoned home, too, since Easton might have hidden the paintings there, knowing that no one was in residence. (Really? That seemed a bit far-fetched to me.) But Lacey knows that he can't keep the home in its current condition, and because his father was such a nasty brute, who beat both Lacey and his mother, Lacey hasn't any qualms about tearing his boyhood home apart. Donata Breckinridge, wonderful lady that she is, has decided that she wants to live in Lacey's boyhood home and has the funds to restore it. So she puts in her two cents about how to keep the home's "good bones" and still accomplish what Denis and Lacey want - to tear the place apart.But in the search for the painting, Lacey discovers a mysterious debutante's dress in his mother's old dressing room... and the bludgeoned body of Ferguson in his family's windmill... and Cooper seems to be missing. Denis refuses to believe that Cooper killed Ferguson. And here's where Denis reveals some of his own history to Lacey: Denis alludes to being an orphan, who at 7 was taken in by a woman who "liked boys" and taught him how to steal from the places where she was a maid. Denis ran away from her to the streets of London, where he survived until the age of 10 as a pickpocket, when he chose to pick the wrong pocket -- Cooper's pocket, to be exact. Cooper had just been set down as the heavy-weight boxer of his era, and seeing something of use in Denis, Cooper took Denis in and taught him about survival. Denis, even at the age of 10, was a smart lad, and he was soon the brains behind Cooper's brawn. Denis' schemes not only kept Cooper and Denis alive, they eventually landed Denis in the role of "Underworld Lord" - the man who could get anything, for the right price. Denis' loyalty to Cooper is as a mentor and friend, but Lacey thinks it's misplaced loyalty.Then there's the strange goings on at the country house party. Lady B's husband liked to flaunt his mistresses and indiscretions in her face, so Lady B is putting Lacey to a test with her frenemy. She knows that her frenemy will attempt to seduce Lacey, and she wants to see what he does. Lacey, of course, is on to the scheme, and not only has no interest in the vulgar "lady", but evades her easily on duty for Denis. Grenville has joined the house party, but he, too, escapes its vulgarity and drudgery by assisting Lacey. Lady B has to own up to her scheme, especially when Lacey asks her to leave and go to her son, Peter. Denis has threatened the lives of all Lacey's friends, and especially Lady B and her son, when Lacey tells Denis that he's done - he won't work off this "debt" to Denis any longer -- Denis can go hang.But Denis is persistent. Especially after Lacey discovers a severed hand that Denis identifies as belonging to Cooper.While all of this is going on, Lacey's trying to track down the debutante to whom the gown in his mother's dressing room belongs. It seems that this Helena Quinn eloped with a stranger 10 years ago, leaving her cousin who was at Waterloo in the lurch. Helena also managed to make off with the silver from her father, the vicar's, church. And Lady B finds a diary belonging to Lacey's mother... a diary that indicates that his mother had an affair with a much younger man and contemplated running off with the man. The diary also mentions that his mother had hopes of "increasing", perhaps with a daughter this time. Who is this mysterious man? What connection is there between his mother and Helena Quinn? Lacey learns more than he ever wants to know... and has to fight off the specter of his horrid father and the anger at knowing that his mother chose to stay behind for him rather than seek her happiness in scandal.AND THEN... we have to get back to the mystery of Cooper... We see another side to Denis, and through the turn of events, it seems obvious to me that Lacey more than works off any indebtedness to Denis. But does Denis see it that way? Will Lacey be free of him now? Sure, there will always be some connection between Lacey and Denis, and Denis will, no doubt, seek to put Lacey back into his debt. But nothing much is said about their current "debts" being settled. And that unsettles me.--------------I like that we see even more backbone from Lady B. I like that we know that Lacey will find happiness with her. I like that we discover more about Denis and how he might have become who he is; although even Lacey knows better than to take everything Denis says to him at face value. What can Lacey prove about Denis' past? Probably nothing. But it does help Lacey and the readers understand more. Some resolution is found with Marianne and Grenville, since she finally shares her secret with him - about time! And as we, the readers knew all along, Grenville wouldn't be the high-handed person Marianne and even Lacey feared he might be. He interferes, of course, but in the best of ways.But as I said, the various mysteries in this book, while entertaining and enlightening, served only as the means for furthering the life stories of Lacey and Denis. Everything happens so quickly and so violently, it's tough to get much of a handle on the who's and why's... Although we aren't in doubt, this time, of who the culprit is in the main case. In the secondary mystery of Helena Quinn, a bittersweet tale emerges, and Lacey is able to right the wrongs of the past in a way that prevents the naive and innocent from being exposed to harsh justice.