If you enjoy the novels of Agatha Christie and Jane Austen, you will love Anna Dean’s historical mystery series. The Dido Kent novels combine the best of mystery and historical fiction. What led Dean to write Regency mysteries? She confesses, “I love the countryside, old houses, old letters, word puzzles, and the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a combination of all these interests which resulted in the writing of the Dido Kent Mystery series.” A Woman of Consequence, the third novel in the series, was selected as one of Kirkus Reviews’s Best Fiction Books of 2012. According to Kirkus, the novel “is another delight, complete with perfect regency prose and an excellent mystery.”
Dido Kent, who lives with her brother and his family in an English vicarage, is asked to investigate mysterious events at Madderstone Abbey. Dido’s friend, Penelope Lambe, suffers a serious fall upon seeing what she thinks is the “Grey Nun,” a legendary ghost who haunts the Abbey. When a skeleton is then discovered in the abbey pond, Dido digs into the past and unravels a tale of intrigue and family secrets.
Dean is as delightfully ironic as her favourite author, Jane Austen. When a mother in Dean’s novel, for example, tells Dido that her “poor Georgie is so very distressed,” Dido glances “at the poor sensitive child who was now absentmindedly beating the doll’s head against the leg of a chair” (28).
Like Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (see my blog) and Bram Stokers’s Dracula (see my blog), Dean’s novel makes effective use of characters’ letters. Dido reveals her inner thoughts and fears in correspondence with her sister. She conveys a sense of immediacy and heightened animation in passages such as the following: “Oh dear! Forgive my rambling, Eliza. I am writing down my thoughts as they arise and I doubt you will be able to make any sense of them” (143).
Historical mystery fans will not be disappointed in A Woman of Consequence. “The adherence to conventions of the time,” observes Library Journal, “the clever use of social details to decipher the mystery, and the slow development of the mature romantic relationship between Dido and her suitor make for a satisfyingly enjoyable historical series. Readers won’t be able to get enough of Miss Dido Kent and Mr. William Lomax” (Hayman 2012, 54).
Dean, Anna. A Woman of Consequence. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2012.
Hayman, Stacey. “A Woman of Consequence: The Investigations of Miss Dido Kent.” Library Journal 137, no. 2 (2012): 54.