This was a great old-style English country house murder mystery which kept on giving. There were some parts where it flagged a little, but overall it was a very worthy read. I enjoyed it immensely and I recommend it, which may come as a surprise to people who follow my reviews because I'm typically not a fan of series, nor am I at all enamored of first person voice, and this is both: it's book one of a "Lady Hardcastle" series, and it's also told in first person! As it happens, the voice wasn't at all distracting or intrusive, and since this was book one, there was no fear of cookie-cutter stories or of a tediously formulaic approach. It just goes to show that even a cynical, cantankerous curmudgeon like me can find the occasional exception to the rule!
In a sense, it's reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, in that the assistant is the one relating the story of the 'great detective' (although both parties do their share of detecting here). On the other hand, this story departs rather a lot from the traditional Lord (or in this case Lady) and servant duo. Lady Emily Hardcastle and her Lady's maid, Florence Armstrong (that latter name is chosen wisely, trust me), are more like companions than ever they are mistress and maid. Flo has no problem setting Lady Hardcastle straight, and even being a real smart-aleck from time to time. They have a wonderful repartee, which is what made this story for me, but then they've been together for a long time and Lady Hardcastle is a widow, so they have only each other and their relationship is entirely understandable and realistic. The two have a history of adventure abroad, which made me think this was not the first volume in the series, but it is, and I shall be interested in learning how things develop from here.
In this particular adventure, as the title suggests, the pair have arrived in the English countryside and are setting up home in a cottage with the idea of enjoying a real break from the adventurous and hectic life they had been leading (not always by choice!) abroad. The problem is that on their first ever foray into that countryside, they happen upon a dead body hanging from a fine old English oak. It looks like some despondent young man hung himself, but as Lady Hardcastle observes, one or two things about this scenario hardly ring true.
From that point onward, the game is afoot and before long there's another murder and a theft. Lady Hardcastle and Flow dive into the case because they think the detective has got it rather more round his neck than the first victim had, but in the end, and contrary to one or two negative reviewers' observations I've seen, the detective turns out to be a lot smarter than he first appears, and he and the two would-be detectives begin to get along famously.
I thought I'd solved the first murder quite early in the story, but I had not. On the other hand, I'm typically useless at solving these things, which is why I enjoy them! I still think my solution would have worked in a slightly different story, but this only serves to give me the chance to turn it into a story of my own, right?!
All in all, a fun read, a decent mystery, and a good story. I think it could have been served by being slightly shorter, but I'm not about to make a fuss over that that because I did enjoy it as is, and I recommend as a thoroughly bang-up show, what?!