[book review] A Most Agreeable Murder by Julia Seales

Synopsis: When a wealthy bachelor drops dead at a ball, a young lady takes on the decidedly improper role of detective in this action-packed debut comedy of manners and murder.

Feisty, passionate Beatrice Steele has never fit the definition of a true lady, according to the strict code of conduct that reigns in Swampshire, her small English township–she is terrible at needlework, has absolutely no musical ability, and her artwork is so bad it frightens people. Nevertheless, she lives a perfectly agreeable life with her marriage-scheming mother, prankster father, and two younger sisters– beautiful Louisa and forgettable Mary. But she harbors a dark secret: She is obsessed with the true crime cases she reads about in the newspaper. If anyone in her etiquette-obsessed community found out, she’d be deemed a morbid creep and banished from respectable society forever.

For her family’s sake, she’s vowed to put her obsession behind her. Because eligible bachelor Edmund Croaksworth is set to attend the approaching autumnal ball, and the Steele family hopes that Louisa will steal his heart. If not, Martin Grub, their disgusting cousin, will inherit the family’s estate, and they will be ruined or, even worse, forced to move to France. So Beatrice must be on her best behavior . . . which is made difficult when a disgraced yet alluring detective inexplicably shows up to the ball.

Beatrice is just holding things together when Croaksworth drops dead in the middle of a minuet. As a storm rages outside, the evening descends into a frenzy of panic, fear, and betrayal as it becomes clear they are trapped with a killer. Contending with competitive card games, tricky tonics, and Swampshire’s infamous squelch holes, Beatrice must rise above decorum and decency to pursue justice and her own desires–before anyone else is murdered.

I don’t know how I managed to stumble across the Gothic side of books this year, but here I am, second novel in, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Normally, I find Gothic and Gothic styled tales a bit too dark, but this particular tale was, well, agreeable with me.

I’d never heard of Ms. Seales before this book, and I have to wonder if A MOST AGREEABLE MURDER is her debut novel. In fact, I thought the story read like a film or a television show, but not in a bad way at all. After reading her bio, the comparison makes sense: she received a degree in writing and screenwriting. And it absolutely shows in her writing. If you like BRIDGERTON and GHOSTS, then read on. Spoilers ahead.

The Characters

One thing I liked about this story is that a “guest list” is included in the beginning. Very “who dun it” and aligns with the times. We are introduced to a whole host of characters, but the story is tole through the eyes of the heroine, Beatrice. She works with an equally well-rounded character, Drake, as events of the ball -more like soiree with a smaller group – unfold. Characters all have their own quirks, and those are highlighted throughout the tale.

I was often left wondering if a certain character was, in fact, dead. Which only added to the ambiance and gothic nature of the book.

A few of the characterizations are a bit overdone, like the captain who uses nothing but nautical references in his speech. Or a book lover who uses nothing but puns and limericks in his own conversations. But that is part of the essence, the draw, of “who dun it tales,” isn’t it?

The Writing

This novel is very well written, and I enjoyed the little snippets from a character’s life included in between each chapter. Though I felt it was a bit slow to start, and I correctly guess “who’d dun it” by the end of chapter four, it was still a fun ride getting to the end. The theme of “secrets” is woven throughout, and no character is exempt from it. There are no trigger warnings, which I appreciate, though some elements felt a little TOO unbelievable. Inventive, certainly, but unbelievable. So much so that they added almost a steampunk element to the story. There’s just enough humor woven in to keep it from going completely to the dark side.

The Setting

While swamps would not have been uncommon in Victorian England, especially considering the world as a whole was wetter then than it is now, I have to believe that the town itself was completely made up. This really added to the Gothic element. Of course there was a giant, old house. Old passages, decay, turrets and libraries. And a good 90% of the story took place in the host’s home.

Final Thoughts

A MOST AGREEABLE MURDER by Julia Seales was a most enjoyable read, more than I thought it would be at the very beginning. As I received an ARC for review, there were a few notes left within its pages that I am certain will not be in the final product. However, those little notes gave me random chuckles throughout the story, and were a delightful insight into the author’s mind. Even though I figured out “who dun it” by chapter three or four, I had to see if I was correct – and I was! The quirky cast of characters also fit the bill, with everyone having secrets to hide. Each character is distinct, if not a titch annoying with mannerisms. But I think that still adds a layer of charm to this story. If you like mysteries, gothic feels and less-than-conventional Victorian era heroines, then A MOST AGREEABLE MURDER will be a most agreeable read on a Friday night with a mug of drinking chocolate. I give A MOST AGREEABLE MURDER five out of five stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I received A MOST AGREEABLE MURDER for free for review from NetGalley and Random House. This gift did not affect my thoughts. All opinions are my own.

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Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.

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