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Book Author: Anna Dean


If the mystery novel had been invented in the late 1700s or the early 1800s and Jane Austen had written one, this would have been her book.

Dido Kent is an unmarried woman of “five and thirty,” an age at which a woman’s chances of romance and marriage are virtually nil during this era. Luckily for Dido, she appears to have enough money so that she’s not concerned about her unmarried state; perhaps unluckily, she’s a woman with determination and brains, a combination that is not highly respected in the enclosed society in which she lives.

Dido is visiting her cousin Flora in Richmond when Flora’s neighbor dies suddenly, under somewhat suspicious circumstances.  Mrs. Lansdale, a wealthy middle-aged woman, dies after an argument with her nephew and heir, Henry Lansdale.  He is the gentleman of fortune of the title.

Henry left his aunt’s house against her wishes that night, as did Mrs. Lansdale’s other relation who lives in the house, Miss Neville.  What killed Mrs. Lansdale was an overdose of a sleeping draught (to use the British term), the Kendal Black Drop, four times the usual amount she took, according to the apothecary.

Henry Lansdale is obviously the chief suspect, partly due to the fact that he is his aunt’s only heir and partly due to the vicious gossip of a neighbor, Mrs. Midgely. Why Mrs. Midgely is so determined to blacken Henry’s name is part of the mystery, as she hardly knows him and wouldn’t appear to benefit by his imprisonment.

Henry is in love with Mrs. Midgely’s ward, Mary Bevan, and Mary is about to be sent north to become a governess after having lived with Mrs. Midgely and the late Mr. Midgely for nearly all her life.  Life as a governess is a difficult one, but it is one of only two professions open to decent women, the other being a teacher.  And for a woman who has never worked nor expected to, life as a governess would be a cruel descent down the social ladder.

But Mary has an “out,” another possibility.  Henry has proposed, and after some consideration she has accepted.  However, they need to keep their engagement secret, for public knowledge of it would only fuel the gossip that Henry poisoned his aunt so he could inherit her money and marry Mary.   Since Mary is a young woman without a fortune, she probably would not have been acceptable to the difficult Mrs. Lansdale.

Life at the time of George III was severely restricted. Dido is very circumscribed in trying to find out what happened to her neighbor, as gentlewomen don’t interest themselves in such things.  She’s also somewhat held back by her interest in William Lomax, a man who appears to care for her but not for her unseemly interest in crime.  Should she continue to look for the truth about Mrs. Lansdale’s death and thus possibly incur William’s displeasure, or should she be true to herself and her feeling that she alone cares enough to discover the facts of the case?

A Gentleman of Fortune is a charming mystery. Simply reading the title tells the reader about the time and place and even the circumstances surrounding the crime.  Anna Dean has gone back more than two hundred years to let readers know that with all the differences in society and a woman’s place in it, some things haven’t changed all that much.

You can read more about Anna Dean at her web site.