Death at the Abbey: A Lady of Ashes Mystery

Christine Trent. Kensington, $15 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-61773-645-2

This novel’s execution doesn’t do justice to its intriguing plot, Trent’s fifth to feature British undertaker Violet Harper (after The Mourning Bells). In 1869, Violet is summoned to “the most magnificent estate she’d ever seen, owned by the most eccentric man she’d ever met, to care for the most bizarre corpse she’d ever been called upon to undertake.” The estate is the enormous Welbeck Abbey; the owner, Lord William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the fifth Duke of Portland; and the corpse that of his raven, Aristotle. Members of the household view the death of Aristotle, who choked on a piece of porcelain, as a harbinger of doom, a superstition buttressed by several murders on the estate, which the duke asks Violet to investigate discreetly. After Col. George Mortimer, an old army friend of Lord William, claims to have seen someone strangled, the body of Burton Spencer, an estate worker, is found, but Spencer was bludgeoned to death, not asphyxiated. Heavy-handed foreshadowing lessens, rather than heightens, suspense. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Nov.)