[book review] Of Manners and Murder by Anastasia Hastings

Synopsis: Of Manners and Murder is the first in the delightful new Dear Miss Hermione mystery series from Anastasia Hastings.

1885: London, England. When Violet’s Aunt Adelia decides to abscond with her newest paramour, she leaves behind her role as the most popular Agony Aunt in London, “Miss Hermione,” in Violet’s hands.

And of course, the first letter Violet receives is full, not of prissy pondering, but of portent. Ivy Armstrong is in need of help and fears for her life. But when Violet visits the village where the letters were posted, she finds that Ivy is already dead.

She’ll quickly discover that when you represent the best-loved Agony Aunt in Britain, both marauding husbands and murder are par for the course.

Please note that Ms. Hastings is a pen name. According to Goodreads, she also writes under Miranda Bliss, Casey Daniels, Zoe Daniels, Connie Deka, Mimi Granger, Connie Lane, Connie Laux, Constance Laux and Kylie Logan. I make this note in case you, the reader, wanted to find her on social media. I could not.

Read in three hours on evening, I found myself unable to put OF MANNERS AND MURDER down, even during some parts that were a little slow paced. But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Every writer strives to find that perfect balance between the action and mayhem and the times when truths are revealed.

I don’t know if this is Ms. Hastings’ first novel, but she has absolutely put time into her craft. She’s done her research, and I think may even be aware of a rather infamous and murderous “husband” by the name of George Joseph Smith. When you read this delightfully twisty novel, you’ll understand the comparison.

Comps aren’t a bad thing. Not at all. Why do you think marketing novels in this way is such a popular thing? Of course, perhaps not for murders. I’m talking about: “If you like ____________ and _____________, then you’ll love this novel!” So I suppose “comp” isn’t the proper word for this. Let’s say, instead, “inspiration.” Many novels are inspired by actual events in history, and OF MANNERS AND MURDER certainly is. Let’s take a look at some of its pros and cons. Spoilers ahead.

The Characters

All right. Let’s take a look at the main characters in OF MANNERS AND MURDER. This story is not a romance, but it does have some love elements. It is told through the eyes of two very opposite sisters – Violet and Sephora – where the older isn’t interested in marriage but the younger is. There is some backstory given but not much. I think that’s because the author really wants the focus to be on the matter at hand.

Violet could be considered a bluestocking. Being in her mid to late twenties, she’s well traveled, well read, knows how to fire a handgun and is all too willing to punch someone in the face if need be. It is quite possible Miss Violet would have read the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who invented Sherlock Holmes. Ms. Hastings certainly fashioned her in the Holmes-ian style, and I’m not mad about that at all.

Every single character in OF MANNERS AND MURDER has a secret, including the leading ladies. From each local of the village they visit to those who suddenly appear, I can see several stories coming out from each of them. Except, of course, from the ones whose stories are already wrapped up.

The Writing

This story jumps right into the mystery. There is no taking one or two or even three chapters to get started. No major world building takes place. The author assumes her readers will already know what London is like in this time period. Normally, I am not a fan of multiple POVs, but I actually didn’t mind that the story is told through both Violet and Sephora, with most of it through Violet. We get to see a little of what motivates the younger sister, and how it all ties together in the end.

Overall, the writing itself is clean, though I thought that some paragraphs and speaking parts could be structured better in the first two chapters. ie Speaking intermingled with the prose. There were also a few typos when we’re introduced to a character named Betty, but as this is an ARC copy for review, I hope these very minor instances will be corrected before publication.

Even though I was hooked from the very beginning, if I have to hear one more Victorian character talk about The Language of Flowers, I’m going to throw my book across the room (lol). I will admit that I did get a little bored from time to time, but each little story was woven into the overall mystery. In fact, there were several mysteries all rolled into one. I am happy to report that this is the first mystery I’ve read in a long while that I didn’t figure out “who dun it” very early on.

The Settings

I thought, at first, that the majority of the story would take place at a victim’s funeral, much like how it is in A MOST AGREEABLE MURDER by Julia Seales. How very Victorian! I thought. A veritable “who dun it” at a funeral. While Miss Violet may be comfortable traveling alone to all the places she goes, women of this time would’ve still needed a chaperone. *please see my notes below* That aside, I think Ms. Hastings still captures the essence of Victorian travel very well, not to mention the types of homes certain social groups of the time would’ve lived in. While I almost wish this could’ve all taken place at a funeral, the story does not lend itself to that, and it’s all the better for it. Several scenes are very Gothic-esque, and I’m not mad about that either.

Trigger warnings: Discussions of mental health and possible suicide. — Starting July 16, 2022 — People who call, text, or chat with 988 will be directly connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The existing Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will remain available. Callers can also connect with the Veterans Crisis Line or assistance in Spanish. Source: pa.gov

Final Thoughts

*It was interesting that, for a novel set in 1885, that these sisters often went off on their own without a chaperone. For a book to be titled with the word manners in it, really is quite an ironic, well, mannerism. The Women’s Suffrage Movement was in full swing when this novel took place, but many Londoners still practiced propriety. Women of this era would’ve still needed at least a maid or a footman present when going off to see someone of the opposite sex. While I can see how Ms. Hastings wanted to paint the main characters as strong, independent women, a reader does have to suspend reality just a little bit to make it fit modern times.* end rant

OF MANNERS AND MURDER was still a really fun read I couldn’t put down. It got right into the story without pages and pages of backstory or introductions. As a writer of historical adventures myself, this I really appreciated. Ms. Hastings showed me that one doesn’t need to follow social convention when it comes to setting up a story, and that’s a lesson I’ll remember when it comes to my own writing. For an enjoyable cast of characters and mysteries within the mystery (but some historical inaccuracies), I give OF MANNERS AN MURDER four out of five stars. I really hope this turns into a series!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I received OF MANNERS AND MURDER for free for review from NetGalley and Minotaur Books. 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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