Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Downton Abbey meets Monty Python in this mischievous Welsh romp.
Welsh-Canadian crime aficionado, Cathy Ace, has been juggling two cozy mystery series the last few years: the Cait Morgan Mysteries and the WISE Enquiry Agency Mysteries. This is my first dip into the latter, and the Disgraced Duke is book five, so it took me a minute to come to grips with this eclectic team of crime-solving damosels. Ace says: “I’ve burrowed even deeper into my roots by creating a cast of characters in the WISE women who come from all four corners of the United Kingdom, and work in a uniquely British setting — a ducal estate set in the rolling Welsh countryside of the Wye Valley in Powys, where I spent a good deal of time when I was young.” The ensemble cast features London East-Ender Annie Parker, the ever-posh Christine Wilson-Smythe, Carol Hill (who seemed oddly normal) and stern Scottish Mavis, who’s keeping a watchful eye on Althea, the sage dowager crone and mother to the duke.
While this particular case didn’t seem too critical, considering the duke in question was well-dead and buried, and no one seemed in mortal peril, other obstacles presented themselves that kept the “detectives” diverted. Carol is deep into solving The Case of the Purloined Pickles—two hundred jars of pickles destined for fundraising have disappeared. And Annie, who names all their cases alliteratively, has gone undercover to solve The Case of the Suspicious Sisters. But, back to the Duke.
Henry Devereaux Twyst, eighteenth duke of Chellingworth, and his lovely pregnant wife Stephanie are keen to disprove murderous rumours about his ancestor before their child arrives. Rumour has it that the thirteenth duke killed two men and had them buried on the estate, hid away for many years, and eventually committed suicide—a dreadful legacy for an unborn duke to bear. They hire their WISE women friends to sort it. Meanwhile, there’s a documentary crew at Chellingworth filming a ceiling restoration.
Ace is a mistress of dialect, from the posh to the pauper. Is there a class presence here? Indeed. But being set in the UK, as it is, one must grin and bear it. Ace’s wit will keep you engaged. The story of the thirteenth duke is enchanting, and don’t you long to know what happened to those pickles?
In the UK, Ace ran her own marketing communications training company and travelled the world as a management trainer. She calls herself an “edu-taining” speaker, and I concur. I’ve seen her presentations. As wise and funny as her cozies, she will keep you enthralled.
I leave you with a quote from the dowager herself: “Books are merely decorative when all one can see is their spine on a shelf. It’s not until they’re opened and read that they become what they truly are, dear — which is magical.”
If you haven’t read any of Cathy Ace’s WISE cozies, I suggest you begin at the beginning and giggle your way through in sequence.
The Case of the Disgraced Duke is published by Four Tails.
W. L. Hawkin’s latest release, Lure: Jesse & Hawk is a small-town romantic suspense novel set on a Chippewa reservation in the American Midwest. She publishes with Blue Haven Press.