Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Place of Confinement by Anna Dean

First Sentence: My dear Eliza, I am in prison and I do not know how much longer I can bear my confinement.

Spinster Dido Kent has been sent off to Charcombe Manor with wealthy and demanding Aunt Manners. Upon arriving, she learns that Miss Letitia Verney is missing, though to have eloped to Gretna Green with Tom Lomax, wastrel son of Dido’s suitor, William. There is more than one puzzle to keep Dido busy. Why does no one seem concerned about Letitia?  Why is Aunt Manners giving her jewelry to George, a brother she dislikes? Why is crying heard from a deserted part of the manor house? And most urgently, how can Dido prevent Tom from being hung for the murder of a man visiting George’s new resort town near the estate.

From the very opening, it is hard to resist Ms. Dido Kent and the charming letter to her sister. Ms. Dean very cleverly creates the atmosphere of there being a mystery about to unfold without resorting to the cliched use of a portent.

Anyone familiar with Jane Austin will find themselves equating Dean’s characters with those of Austin. Dean captures the details of the period perfectly from the societal structure, to the inclusion of a chamber horse, to the style of speech. “…And would you seek to change the world’s opinion on the matter?” “I do not presume so far… I seek only to act as my conscience dictates. It is a matter of integrity, Mr. Lomax, not revolt.” The relationship between Dido and William Lomax is wonderfully written and completely appropriate to the characters and the period.

Yet set into this period of lightness, Dean introduces murder and an element of the Gothic and dread through a grim discovery made by Dido. There does appear to be a small oversight in the logic needed to solve the crime, but it can be forgiven considering the very clever plot twist and even bigger surprise. The sub-theme of duty is very effective and adds depth to the story.

A Place of Confinement” is wonderful. I do love Dido Kent and admire Ms. Dean’s skill of creating a character who solves crimes in a way that is completely believable considering the constraints placed upon her by the period in which she is set. Do treat yourself and begin the series at the beginning.

A PLACE OF CONFINEMENT (Hist Mys/Ama Sleuth-Dido Kent-England-Georgian/1807) – VG+
Dean, Anna – 4th in series
Minotaur Books, 2013

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