A Family Affair

Caro Peacock, Avon A, $13.99 paper (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-144749-5

In Peacock’s spirited third early Victorian historical (after A Dangerous Affair), Benjamin Disraeli asks Liberty Lane, a young gentlewoman who supplements her meager means with some discreet private sleuthing, to investigate Lady Sophia Brinkburn, who is spreading word that her elder son is illegitimate as her mad husband nears death. With the succession of the family title in question and a major scandal brewing, Lane rents a cottage near the Brinkburn estate to do some undercover snooping. She finds Lady Brinkburn both likable and sane, making her ladyship’s motives for ruining her own good name even more puzzling. The murder of an unsavory family retainer and, later, Lady Brinkburn’s own death darken the mystery further. The novel’s amiable voice, crisp pace, and deft plotting are enriched by well-chosen glimpses of 1830s Britain, from the gentry’s sudden craze for jousting to the new railway system beginning to change the landscape forever. (July)