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Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman


Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman

The cover blurb of Tessa Arlen’s debut novel, DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN, says it all: fans of “Downton Abbey” will get a kick out of this Edwardian mystery. Perhaps that’s because the book reads as if the entire Crawley household, upstairs and downstairs, was transplanted into the plot of the movie Clue. While demonstrating a disappointing lack of originality, the author manages to create an entertaining read.

The dishonorable gentleman in question is Teddy Mallory, the nephew of Ralph Talbot, Earl of Montfort. Recently expelled from Oxford University for cheating at gambling, Teddy is up to more trouble at the Montforts’ annual summer costume ball at their estate of Iyntwood. His aunt and hostess, Lady Clementine, is determined that nothing should go amiss for her famous event. Everything must be just so, which she ensures with the help of her loyal housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, and an army of servants. But of course, something does go wrong. After the ball, Teddy is found, hung and strung up like a slaughtered animal, in the woods. The hunt is on for a wily criminal who killed a man whom every house guest had a reason to want gone.

" entertaining read.... Perhaps the most intriguing character of all is the villain himself."

While the plot itself is intriguing, most of the characters are either woefully underdeveloped or carbon copies of those from “Downton Abbey.” Mrs. Jackson is a slightly younger version of Mrs. Hughes, Downton’s mistress below-stairs, although she demonstrates the occasional flash of originality that tantalizes the reader. Mr. Hollyoak, the butler, shows no difference from Downton’s staid Mr. Carson, while Lord and Lady Montfort bear remarkable similarities to Lord and Lady Grantham, even down to the latter’s untraditional origins (Lady Grantham is looked down upon for her American origins; Lady Montfort was raised in India and deemed uncouth).

Arlen hints at interesting backgrounds for the house guests who are stuck at Iyntwood. Flickers of modern beliefs, including sexual freedom and women’s right to vote, pop up, but are stifled by the Montfort family’s constant insistence on the banal country values. Perhaps the most intriguing character of all is the villain himself. Teddy is a wonderfully malicious character whose machinations unravel slowly and deliciously, although they wrap up too neatly at the end with insufficient explanation. One wishes he hadn’t been killed off so soon --- perhaps he would’ve added a bit of spice to the book.

Reviewed by Carly Silver on February 20, 2015

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman
by Tessa Arlen