Today’s review comes with a bonus GIVEAWAY! So be sure to read to the bottom and enter to win!
In this intriguing novel of romance, mystery, and clever disguise set in Victorian England, a young woman investigates the murder of her own father.
After the mysterious death of her father, Miss Gillian Young takes a new job as the principal costume designer at the renowned Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. But while she remembers her father as a kind, well-respected man of the Police Force, clues she uncovers indicate he’d been living a double life: a haunting photograph of a young woman; train stubs for secret trips just before his death; and a receipt for a large sum of money. Are these items evidence of her father’s guilty secrets? His longtime police partner thinks so.
Then Gillian meets the dashing Viscount Thomas Lockwood. Their attraction is instant and inescapable. As their romantic involvement grows, Gillian begins to suspect even Lockwood’s motives. Does Lord Lockwood truly love her? Or is his interest a front for the desire to own her newly inherited property? And what should she make of her friend’s suggestion that Lockwood or men like him were involved in the murder of her father?
Soon Gillian is convinced that her father has left evidence somewhere that can prove his innocence and reveal the guilty party. But someone wants to stop her from discovering it. The closer she comes to uncovering it, the more menacing her opposition grows. With her life on the line, Gillian takes on an ingenious disguise and takes on the role of a lifetime to reveal the true killer—before it’s too late both for her and for those that she loves.
Why This Book:
It is far too easy to allow oneself to become stuck in a reading rut, so I make it a point to read outside of my genre on occasion. Granted, A Lady In Disguise is not too far outside my genre – it is still historical fiction – but it is definitely beyond my usual choice in novels due to its heavy emphasis on the mystery portion of the plot, leaving the romance as a secondary part of the story.
Additionally, Sandra Byrd was not an author I had read in recent years and I had never read one of her historical novels, so when I saw the opportunity to be part of a group who would have the privilege of reading the book prior to its release, I applied and was accepted. I did receive a free copy of this book, but was under no obligation to review it favorably. As always, the review below is entirely my own and an honest opinion of the novel I read.
“I stood, that bleak day, in the graveyard in the village near Winton Park. The chapel’s stone gargoyles, pitted and blinded by the elements, nonetheless mocked our mortality with their jeering grins.”
I think I was tired when I started this book, because despite the well-done first line it failed to intrigue me. The other explanation might be that the romantic interest is only briefly (and unconvincingly) hinted at in the first chapter and then not seen or really even mentioned again until chapter seven. So perhaps the romantic in me was feeling a bit impatient. Either way, the first few chapters, though beautifully written and filled with a mystery which engaged my curiosity, failed to engage my emotions.
Additionally, the first few chapters left me a bit frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding Mrs. W’s role in Gillian’s life. However, this was clarified in later chapters.
Miss Gillian Young – The heroine. She is a self-confident, brave young woman determined to not only provide for herself, but also for those close to her as well as for those in need. Her sense of reason and caution are strong enough to make her a believable character in this story without making her bolder choices outside the realm of plausibility.
Inspector Young – Miss Gillian’s father is deceased prior to the start of the novel, yet he remains a character through Miss Gillian’s memories; and certainly, the mystery surrounding his actions prior to his death are what drive most of the plot forward.
Mrs. W. – Though no title is given, that I recall, Mrs. W. is clearly a long-time employee of the family. Not quite a servant, but paid nonetheless, Mrs. W. has difficulty accepting Gillian’s transition from child to adult.
Viscount Thomas Lockwood – Neighbor to Miss Young’s newly inherited country estate, he is apparently eager to be of assistance to Miss Young, though his motivations are unclear throughout most of the novel.
Sergeant Roberts – The young policeman who’d been training with Inspector Young prior to his mysterious death, now claims to be investigating his mentor’s actions.
Inspector Collingsworth – A long-time colleague of Inspector Young and friend of the family, he is seemingly the head of the Chelsea Police Division.
Francis Collingsworth – Inspector Collingsworth’s son, he is following in his father’s footsteps as a police officer. He is a childhood friend of Gillian with hopes of becoming more. (As they were most frequently – and appropriately – referred to by their last names, I had trouble keeping Francis separate from his father until I noted that he was a constable while his father was an inspector.)
Mr. Wilhelm – Miss Young’s employer at the Drury Lane Theater in London.
I did not wish to sound tediously repetitious. Otherwise, I could have added to literally every character listed (minus the heroine, of course): “his/her motivations are unclear throughout most of the novel.” For it seems that at one point or another each of the characters, outside of Miss Gillian Young herself, did or said something which might warrant suspicion.
There are additional important characters, but to mention them here would give away certain surprises, so I will end my list here.
Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:
As I mentioned, the first few chapters did not engage my emotions, although they did engage my curiosity. However, the book felt a bit like a snowball rolling downhill. The momentum gradually, but continuously built until it was at such a pace I could not make myself put the book down.
Elements I especially liked/disliked:
I enjoyed reading about life from the perspective of a primarily middle-class woman who had connections to nearly every level of the various classes in London 1883. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into the lives of the pantomimes of the time. As a special bonus, there is an author’s note at the back of the book which shares some of the relative bits of history upon which the book is based, which I found fascinating.
I also enjoyed this references to Little Women sprinkled throughout the book.
The primary themes are that no one is perfect, reputations are fragile, relationships are key to survival, and trust must be earned. Yet none of these themes are presented quite so clearly in the novel, which plays with these ideas in a way which causes you consider both sides of every story.
Perhaps others saw the answers before I, but I will admit that this mystery kept me guessing until the very end. While the essence of the ending did not surprise me, how the author got us to it, did. Yet when it all concluded, everything made sense and fit together perfectly, as any well-written mystery should. I will also add for my fellow romance lovers, that in the end, I was quite satisfied with the conclusion of the romance portion of this novel.
3.75 out of 5 stars
(Although bigger mystery fans may rate it higher, this is a reflection of my own enjoyment of the novel.)
One last note:
While this is Book 3 in the Daughters of Hampshire series, I have not read either of the prior two and did not feel this impacted my enjoyment or understanding of this novel in any way. Therefore, I will say this book is clearly able to be read as a stand alone. The other two books in the series are:
Have you read any of Sandra’s books? Are you a big mystery fan?
Psst! Feel free to borrow any of the photos in this post for sharing on social media and remember to tag me @KathleenDenly !
The short version
- Share this post on FB/Twitter & tag me!
- Comment with Twitter/FB account & favorite historical fiction novel.
- Follow the rules.
- Check back on Monday, March 27th to see who wins!
The long version
Okay, for those of you who enjoy a strong historical mystery with a little romance to sweeten the deal, here’s your chance to win a FREE copy of this book! I’m giving away my advance copy of A Lady In Disguise to one lucky reader! All you have to do to enter is:
- Share this post on either Twitter or Facebook and tag me in it using @KathleenDenly! (I’ve made it SUPER easy with those Tweetables above & the FB share button below.)
- THEN leave a comment on this post with the title of your favorite historical fiction novel and the Twitter/Facebook account you used to share this post. For example: If I entered using my Twitter account, I would comment with, “Hey Kathleen! You write the best book reviews on the planet! My favorite historical fiction novel is ___. I shared this post on Twitter via @KathleenDenly“… or you know, something like that 😉
You MUST complete BOTH steps to enter. Only one entry per person is allowed. If you forget to add your Twitter/FB info in your original comment, just reply to your own comment and both your reply and original comment will count as one combined entry. All entries must be complete by midnight on Sunday, March 26th. Winner will be announced on http://www.KathleenDenly.com and contacted directly within 24 hours via the social media account (Twitter/Facebook) they used to share this post. Winner must email their shipping address to writeKathleenDenly@gmail.com within 48 hours, otherwise an alternate winner will be chosen. Unfortunately, due to the cost of international shipping, I must limit this contest to U.S. Residents ONLY. Void where prohibited.
How it works:
I will assign a number to each person who enters. I will then enter those numbers into Random.org‘s Random Sequence Generator. Whichever number comes up at the top of the list will be the winner. I will then verify that that person has completed both steps and has not made multiple (rule-breaking) entries. If they have not completed both steps or have made multiple entries, they will be disqualified and the process will be repeated until a valid winner is found.
Remember: Check back March 27th to see who won! Or just subscribe to receive my blog updates by email and have the announcement delivered to your inbox!