Lady Abigail Worthing, a baroness through her recent marriage to Lord James Worthing, the naval hero and explorer she helped prove innocent of a murder charge, is determined to use her newly elevated social status to support the abolitionist movement in England, even though she must keep her activities secret.
As the light-skinned daughter of an English financier and a Jamaican clairvoyant, Abbie herself experiences Regency society’s prejudiced views of “Blackamoors” and knows the danger of malicious gossip for the slightest impropriety. She can’t afford the kind of scandalous rumors that swirl about the volatile marriage and tempestuous affairs of her beautiful neighbor Juliet Henderson, especially with her husband half a world away on a long sea voyage.
Lady Worthing’s relationship with the Hendersons is frosty. Stapleton Henderson, the handsome, brooding hero of the battle of Trafalgar, is building an elaborate spite fence between their properties to separate Abbie’s tiny, misbehaving terrier, Teacup, from his well-trained purebred hounds. When Teacup gets out late one night, he leads Abbie and Henderson to discover Juliet, strangled to death near the unfinished on the Worthing’s property.
The young baroness is convinced that Henderson killed his estranged wife, but he adamantly maintains his innocence. Even though the investigating magistrate is an old friend, Lady Worthing realizes that having met Henderson alone at night could generate vicious rumors, and worse, she herself might become a suspect. She can’t risk waiting for the authorities to make an arrest—she must discover the killer on her own. But Juliet’s complicated romantic escapades and isolated death mean far too many people may have had both the motive and the opportunity for murder.
Abbie is a delightful heroine: beautiful, smart, passionate about justice, and adept at treading the fine line between observing society’s rules and discreetly breaking them when necessary. The supporting characters, from Teacup to Abbie’s powerful godfather, are lively and well-drawn. The plot offers one suspenseful twist after another through the very last sentence, and the relationship between Abbie and Henderson plays charmingly on romance genre tropes—a beautiful, headstrong woman, a dark, dangerous, yet surprisingly vulnerable hero, plenty of witty, double-edged banter—with a light touch.
Abbie’s rich backstory promises interesting future developments and an author’s note explains highlights of Riley’s research into Regency-era racial diversity. The impressive debut of the new Lady Worthing Mysteries series will leave readers eager for the next installment.