Death at Bishop's Keep (Charles and Kate Sheridan Series #1)

Death at Bishop's Keep (Robin Paige Victorian Mysteries, No. 1) - Robin Paige 3-3.5 starsPromising start to a series of mysteries featuring Kathryn (Kate) Ardleigh and Sir Charles Shreridan. The author, Robin Paige, is the pseudonym of husband & wife writing team Susan Wittig-Albert and Bill Albert. (I find that interesting alone! Wonder if they take turns writing the scenes. Or if he writes Sir Charles and she writes Kate?)Kate is a twenty-something American living in New York. Her English father died before she was born, and her Irish mother died hen she was five. Kate was raised by her Irish aunt & uncle with a pack of cousins, including boy cousins, who taught her useful things, like skipping stone and how to fight. Kate loves reading and writing - in her spare time, she's Beryl Bardwell, successful authoress of two published shiller-shockers -- melodramtic stories published by magazines in those days. For her last employer, Kate took dictation and typed correspondence, and she learned German (as her employer was a German woman) to do so. She's ambitious and bright. Kate is determined to make her own way in the world, as an authoress of drama, mystery, terror, and suspense. On her way home from collecting a check for another of Beryl's stories ("Missing Pearl, or The Lost Heiress"), she notices a man following her; her sense of adventure decides to find out what he wants, and she corners the man, much to his surprise. Turns out he's a Pinkerton detective, hired to find her by her Aunt Sabrina Ardleigh in England. Miss Ardeligh wants to employ Kate as a secretary-companion, and she's willing to pay for Kate's journey to England (including ship passage) and take Kate on for a 1 year trial at Bishop's Keep, the family home. Kate is intrigued. The money is right, and the adventure is too much to pass up.Sir Charles Sheridan isn't a "sir" by birth; he was given a knighthood by Queen Victoria for one of his inventions. Charles has a bit of family money at his disposal, and he's got a scientific mind - curious about cameras, photographs, mushrooms, and just about anything rational or scientific. At the moment, he's staying at Mardswell Manor, home of friends, while he photographs the goings on at a nearby architectural dig. At the dig, a body is discovered - not an ancient body, but a very recent murder. A foreigner (judging by the appearance and clothes) was stabbed in the heart and unceremoniously dumped into one of the dig sites. Sir Charles sets about to photograph the evidence. Good thing, too, because the local constable is an intelligent man, but one who's discouraged, faced with a very small budget and a few men who are adequate, but not imaginative or motivated. The Constable wishes he had cameras and typewriters and other technological advances to help him do his job properly; but he doesn't. So he somewhat resents Sir Charles' photographs and insistence on being involved in the case. Why? Not quite sure... Sir Charles and Kate meet at the train station. Kate has come from London with Miss Elenaor "Ellie" Marsden on the train. Miss Marsden is the sister of Brandon, Charles' friend, who invited Charles to stay at Marsden Manor. Ellie is a proper young English lady, engaged to wed a widowed chocolate factory owner (best chocolates in England!) who is 20+ years her senior. But this is Victorian England, where young misses make matches with eligible English gentlemen based more on money, class, and status than on love. Charles is instantly taken with Kate - he's never encountered a "lady" quite like her. She's handsome, inquisitive, intelligent, well-informed, full of natural self-confidence, and determined. She knows about fingerprints and photography. (Well, of course she does! It's Beryl's job to be "up" on the latest crime detection techniques! But Beryl is, of course, Kate's secret.) Kate is taken by Charles, too - and not just his looks, but his scientific bent, the way he actually listens to her and doesn't automatically brush her off because she's a woman. AND Charles tells the group about the murdered man!When Kate arrives at Bishop's Keep, she finds not the Gothic castle she supposed, full of ghosts and all sorts of things to fill Beryl's stories. Instead, she finds a well-built Georgian home. But the PEOPLE in the house have more than enough material for Beryl's stories! Her Aunt Sabrina is the eldest of the Ardeligh children. When Kate's father, Thomas, insisted on going to America, his English father wrote him out of his will. And when the youngest girl, Beatrice, insisted on marrying a soldier, her father wrote her, too, out of the will. So the Ardleigh fortune and grounds belong solely now to Sabrina - the spinster who is devoted to the local vicar and to a new "society" called the Order of the Golden Dawn. Aunt Sabrina seems nice enough, and her expectations of Kate's employment are reasonable. But Aunt Jaggers (Beatrice) is not a reasonable woman by any means. She's harsh, judgmental, and holier-than-thou. Jaggers is bitter that Sabrina received all the inheritance, and she has some secret that she's holding over Sabrina's head - something that allows Jaggers a free hand to run the house and treat the servants worse than dirt. Not that Jaggers treats anyone kindly; she constantly argues and yells and complains and generally makes life disagreeable for everyone. She's suspicious of Kate and determined to rule her; in Jaggers' mind, Kate is an employee, therefore a servant, therefore under Jaggers' domain. But thankfully, Aunt Sabrina disagrees.Upon hearing a few details about the murdered man, such as he had a golden scarab ring, Sabrina asks Kate to gather more information about the man, but cautiously. Sabrina doesn't want anyone to know her interest in this case. Kate finds out enough from Sir Charles and from the ensuing investigation that Charles takes on to link the dead man to the Order of the Golden Dawn - and to Aunt Sabrina, who is working with Kate to compile a membership roster, type up the charter, and organize the society's secret and founding documents and mysteries.Sir Charles can't figure out how Kate is so informed - and how she keeps turning up at the same locations he does during his investigations. (OK this is where the Victorian male mind-set comes into play. Sir Charles can't fathom Kate's interest, curiosity, or ability to think through the evidence and clues for herself to come to some of the same conclusions that he does!) In fact, it rather unnerves him that Kate seems to be his equal in finding and processing evidence! He locates the carriage that the foreign man, a Mr. Armand, hired - and matches the damaged wheel to the photograph of the impressions that the carriage's wheel made at the scene of the crime. In the carriage, he locates a fingerprint. But he's surprised when Kate finds a broken feather - looks to be a peacock feather. That's all Kate needs to link the man to the Order, because peacock feathers and scarab jewelry are the signs by which members identify one another.All of this leads us to Kate being an initiate at the Order of the Golden Dawn, attending meetings held by a Mrs. Farnsworth, a former London stage actress of some renowned. Mrs. Farnsworth likes to surround herself with interesting people, and she invites the likes of Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle (not yet a sir), and Will Yeats to the Order's social gatherings. She is building the local temple for the Order, and yes, that means she's got charge of the money - raising it and putting it to use.When is transcribing some of the Order's documents, including letters from a German woman giving Mr. Westcott (head of the Order and Mrs. F's lover) full permission to start the Order and provides the secret documents for the occult mysteries of the order, Kate finds that something's just not right. Seems the German is incorrect; in fact, it looks more like an English speaker passably familiar with German wrote the letter - in other words, a forgery. That, as well as other things about the Order's documents that just don't add up make Kate suspicious. She confides her suspicions to Aunt Sabrina, but carefully. Because there's a mighty storm of trouble brewing in the house.A former young housemaid, Jenny, has died just after childbirth. Jenny was turned out of Bishop's Keep by Jaggers upon discovering that Jenny was pregnant and unmarried. In fact, Jaggers shamed Jenny into leaving with no references, thereby no way to be further employed. Jenny made her way to London, and eventually died in the poorhouse. The Cook and the Butler, as well as Jenny's "boyfriend" all blame Jaggers for Jenny's death. And none of the servants is too keen on the way that Jaggers treats them anyway. Between that and the mounting tension between Sabrina and Jaggers, Kate is concerned that murder is about to happen.And she's right. After eating a mushroom pudding at dinner, both Sabrina and Jaggers each die an agonizing death the following day. Kate didn't eat any of the pudding, because Jaggers greedily took Kate's portion, as well as her own.Which leaves Kate and Sir Charles with 3 dead bodies and lots of questions: Who is Mr. Armand? Whom did he come to England to see and why? What is his connection to the Order? Who slipped the Death's Cap poisonous mushroom into the mushroom pudding - was it Cook? Henrietta? Nettie? the Butler? Tom, Jenny's lover? Or someone else? WHY? -------------------My only nit with this book is that it seems to take a LONG time and many pages to get the story rolling. In between, we're faced with lots of discussions about the British Motor Car Syndicate and whether or not it was a good investment... All the strum and durst of the local Constable, who isn't terribly interested in solving the murder of Mr. Armand... And lots of "extra" stuff that provides some background and color, but not much in the way of moving the story forward. It could be that because this is the first book in the series, the author(s) decided to lay additional groundwork for the following books. Let's hope so!Because the overall story is fun and different. An American gal and an English "sir" who compliment each others' skills and intelligence and curiosity solving crimes together sounds like a winning team. Since there are several books in the series, I must conclude that other readers thought so, too. On to the next book!