A Most Efficient Murder (2022) by Anthony Slayton
Lord Unsworth doesn't like giving parties and hasn't done so for a decade. But his favorite niece is turning eighteen and he has invited friends and far-flung family for a huge gala in her honor. He also plans on making a big announcement at the end of the party. But things go awry when an unknown woman is found dead in his garden. With high-profile guests, Lord Unsworth really doesn't want the police to ruffle any feathers. He asks his trusted secretary, Mr. Quayle, to keep a watching brief on the investigation and manages to convince the Chief Constable to allow Quayle to "shadow" Inspector Wintle as he takes up the case. Fortunately, Quayle and Wintle served together during the Great War so there is a measure of trust between them. At least until Wintle begins to suspect that Quayle is more interested in protecting the family than discovering the truth. But he should remember Quayle's record in the service....the secretary isn't going to let a murderer go free even if s/he winds up being a member of Lord Unsworth's family.
And it just may be...because it isn't long before Quayle and Wintle discover that several of Lord Unsworth's family did indeed know the woman. And certain pieces of evidence indicate that someone well-acquainted with the house and people must have let the woman into the grounds. Things get even more tricky for the Unsworth's when the gardener's son, known for picking up odd bits of information here and there, is found dead next. Did Tom Nettles see or hear something that led to his death? And can Quayle and Wintle find the killer before anyone else dies?
This is a fun tribute to the country house murders from the Golden Age. Slayton captures the time period and the atmosphere of the vintage mystery really well in this debut novel of what promises to be a good series featuring the very efficient, very observant, very intelligent Mr. Quayle. Clues are distributed quite liberally--almost too liberally since I figured out half of the solution fairly early on. But Slayton's deft hand with characters, narrative, and dialogue makes this a real winner. He especially captures the upper-class grande dame in Lord Unsworth's sister very well. There are hints about Quayle past that are quite intriguing and I hope that future installments will give us more insight on what happened and how Quayle wound up in Lord Unsworth's employ. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. ★★★★
First line: From his perch atop the highest turret, Edward Statham, the Thirteenth Earl of Unsworth could see out across his domain--from the winding gardens and rolling parks to the lakes and woodlands beyond.
Last line: And all was silent save for the music echoing from downstairs and the scratching of His Lordship's pen.
Deaths = 7 (two stabbed; two drowned; two killed in war; one natural)