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Book Author: Nev March


It should have been a wonderful, relaxing trip for Captain Jim Agnihotri and his wife, Lady Diana Framji.  After all, they were traveling on HMS Etruria, a luxurious ship in the Cunard line.  Sadly, however, the former cavalry officer, while very much at home on horseback, is not dealing well with the movements of the liner, and he is so seasick on the first night out that he’s perilously close to fall over the railing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Then assistance appears in the person of an elderly man.  He leads Jim to a nearby deck chair, and the two men have a brief conversation.  Although Jim introduces himself, the other man doesn’t reciprocate.  Instead he asks Jim, “Do they return…here?”  Interestingly, Jim knows exactly what his rescuer means–“Do you see the soldiers you lost?”  Agnihotri admits that he does, adding that he also sees the others, men whom he killed in battle.  The unknown man says,”I did my duty.  It was my duty,” and then he walks away.

When Diana comes on deck a few minutes later, Jim relates the encounter, and she tells him she thinks the man must have been the Spanish grandee who came on board with his wife and secretary.  She reminds him of the strange occurrence that took place as the passengers were boarding earlier that day.  A woman was pushing a wheelchair up the gangplank when suddenly she stopped, frozen, while other passengers tried to maneuver around her.  She appeared to be looking at someone she recognized in the line ahead of her and her charge.  She stayed immobilized, until finally she continued on her way onto the liner.

Jim and Diana wonder whom the attendant was looking at.  Could it have been Jim’s mysterious benefactor?

The next afternoon a steward hands him a note, requesting his immediate attendance on Don Juan Nepomuceno, the Spanish grandee, at the nobleman’s cabin.  For some reason the request had not been passed to Jim immediately, so it isn’t until after lunch that he receives it.  As he heads to the promenade level and the Don’s stateroom, a crew member rushes past him, calling for the ship’s doctor.  Jim never gets as far as the stateroom, however, because as he and the physician pass the music room, they see a group of people, including the ship’s captain, in the doorway.  Don Juan Nepomuceno is slumped in a chair, obviously dead.

Captain Hawley is aware that Jim is a detective with the Dupree detective agency in Boston and asks for his assistance in finding the murderer.  He says that otherwise the Etruria will be held at Liverpool while an inquest is conducted, and with nearly a thousand people on board that would be a disaster for the steamship line publicity-wise as well as a major inconvenience for all the passengers and crew members.  So Jim reluctantly agrees to help.

The author’s notes at the end of the mystery fill readers in on the fascinating history behind The Spanish Diplomat’s Secret.  The novel’s characters and plot are extremely believable, and it’s a delight to meet Captain Jim and Lady Diana again.

You can read more about Nev March at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.