My thanks go out to publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
DEATH AMONG THE DIAMONDS – (Cressida Fawcett #1)
Everyone in 1920s London knows the Honourable Cressida Fawcett: fiercely independent (though never apart from her little pug Ruby), lover of martinis and interior designer extraordinaire. She’s solved many crimes of fashion… so how about murder?
Cressida Fawcett is heading to the English countryside for a weekend of cocktails and partying at her friend’s glamorous mansion, the location of a recent diamond heist. But just hours after her arrival, Cressida is woken by an almighty scream. Rushing to the landing, she looks down into the great hall to find a trembling maid standing next to the body of Harry, the friendly young chandelier cleaner.
Everyone believes Harry’s death was an accident. But as Cressida examines the opulent hall and the beautiful grounds, she thinks something darker is afoot. Why clean a chandelier in the early hours of the morning? And who overheard Harry boasting about coming into unexpected wealth? A small piece of torn silk found near the body has Cressida looking at the guests’ elegant clothes with fresh eyes…
The short-tempered Detective insists that she keeps her curious nose out of the investigation, but it’s Cressida who realises the stolen diamonds were hidden in the sparkling chandelier. Convinced there is a connection between the theft and the murder, the case takes a sinister turn when a guest is killed in his sleep after a brandy-fuelled night of cards. With everyone unable to leave, can Cressida’s sharp eye for detail catch the killer before another life is taken?
Fliss Chester was born in London and raised in the south east of England. She attended Guildford High School for Girls, and from there the University of York, where she studied Art History. If her degree taught her anything, it was how to describe a picture, so with that skill set in mind she talked her way into a career in sub-editing and spent many happy years captioning pictures (and maybe doing just a little bit more) on homes and lifestyle magazines.
These days, Fliss lives in a 17th century cottage in Surrey and writes historical cozy crime. When she is not killing people off in her whodunnits, she helps her husband, who is a wine merchant, run their business.
Never far from a decent glass of something, Fliss also loves cooking (and writing up her favourite recipes on her blog), enjoying the beautiful Surrey and West Sussex countryside and having a good natter.
“I don’t remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a novelist – but I think, like a decent pot of tea, it was brewing for some time”
“The great ting about fiction is you can create characters using the best, and sometimes the worst, bits of people you’ve met or imagined”
“If anyone knew how important sunlight was, it was the Hon. Cressida Fawcett, who at this very moment was admiring how it dappled across the ceiling of her bedroom”
“It was ten o’clock in the morning and she really should consider getting dressed… yet last night had been rather a late one and sitting here with her pup, her tea and still in her silk pyjamas with pillows propping her up and nothing to do except read the paper, well, it was louche and lazy and… utterly, utterly wonderful”
“The theft of two thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds is a somewhat more serious matter, Miss Fawcett, and if you poke your nose, as elegantly aristocratic as it is, into the whys and wherefores of their disappearance, I fear you might be placing yourself in more danger than merely being struck off the Wicker-Flytes’ Christmas card list”
“Yes, Chief Inspector, I promise not to do any more sleuthing.” Cressida looked suitably chastened as he turned and walked away. Looks, as we all know, however, can be deceiving, and behind her back, Cressida may have crossed her fingers as she’d made her promise. As far as she was concerned, there was a murderer on the loose and a lot more to be untangled here at Chatterton Court – and she rather thought she might be the one to unravel it”
“The approach to the lake tested the suspension of the Bugatti, and Cressida had to put a reassuring hand out to Ruby, who was bouncing up and down in the passenger seat next to her like a chubby mushroom on a trampoline”
“And there was still something that William had said earlier about his sister that had caught at the edges of her mind. Like a snagged thread on an unbound hem, it was working its way loose and she couldn’t quite find the right end of it to pull it clear…”
“She’s solved many crimes of fashion… so how about murder?”
I do so enjoy these ‘Golden Age’ 1920s murder/mysteries, and the format of this particular story is so very Agatha Christie-esque in style, that I was doubly excited, as for me, the aforementioned lady is definitely the Queen of Crime. A carefully garnered group of characters are gathered together in a single location, all of them are suspects and each of them have a motive for the crime(s) which have been committed. An amateur sleuth is added to the guest list, who manages to outsmart the hapless detectives sent to investigate. Despite all the red herrings and attempts to thwart the fledgling crime buster, even down to trying to silence them permanently, they prevail in unmasking the real villain with a flourish, drawing gasps of disbelief and admiration.
‘Spoilers’ are so easy to sneak their way into any premise of my reading of this book, so I’ll keep things deliberately vague…
The Right Honourable Cressida Fawcett, together with Ruby, her equally aloof and opinionated four-legged bundle of fur, is relaxing at her Chelsea pied-a-terre, overlooking the Thames, prior to spending the weekend as a guest at Chatterton Court, near Newbury, the country estate of her dearest friend Lady Dorothy Chatterton, where she lives with her parents and two brothers. The visit is twofold; to meet with some of Dorothy’s circle of friends, including her fiancé, Basil, in the hope that they can get better acquainted with him before their imminent wedding. Also, Cressida has something of a reputation as an interior design whizz and Dorothy’s mother Lady Honoria, has recently made a terrible purchase of some particularly unattractive curtains and badly needs Cressida’s advice.
True to form, Cressida gets side-tracked in London, although in her defence, part of that time is spent with her good friend Maurice Sauvage, in the fabric department of Liberty’s, on Lady Honoria’s behalf, and she is terribly late arriving at Chatterton Court, only to find the place in great disarray, as there has been a robbery and Lady Honoria’s heirloom diamond collection has been stolen, although they have been removed from their purpose made box, which was left in her Ladyship’s bedroom. On top of that, the new company Honoria used to carry out the annual clean of her entrance hall crystal chandelier, have over-run on the job, so the place is full of scaffolding.
Strange things begin to happen almost before Cressida has had the time to unpack her suitcase and retire for the night. The body count commences, with the at first, seemingly accidental death, of someone from outside the intimate gathering. The intended party atmosphere of the weekend is immediately overshadowed by the arrival of DCI Max Andrews and his assistant Quintin Kirby, from Scotland Yard. In that short intervening time, almost before even Cressida has begun poking her nose in where it is not wanted, following through on a few of her own theories about the loss of the diamonds and the ensuing demise of the potentially guilty party, which she now believes to be murder rather than accident; another body is discovered and death by fair play or foul, is again called into question. For Cressida, trying to convince DCI Andrews of her own innocence is of paramount importance, so that she can get stuck into working out just who is the rotten apple in their midst. She therefore can’t understand why Andrews is so cold and stand-offish towards her, until he shows his true concern when seemingly random ‘accidents’ begin to happen to Cressida herself and it is clearly obvious that someone is warning her off. Cressida has now also worked out Andrews rather gruff show of antipathy towards her, all stems back to the relationship he had with her own father, back in the days of the Boer War, and he is being very deliberately protective of her, whilst trying to maintain a professional distance.
Quite quickly though, Max realises that forbidding Cressida to put herself in any more danger, is a pointless and very painful venture, so reluctantly he agrees to them pooling resources and collaborating in a bid to solve the case and apprehend the perpetrator, before anyone else gets hurt, or winds up dead. So far, an astute Cressida has discovered all the evidence, now all she needs to do is piece the jigsaw together. It is now that she recalls one of Maurice’s favourite tailoring adages “measure twice, cut once”, so she, Dorothy, Max and Quintin, spend some valuable time retracing every event in chronological order, matching up the evidence as they progress. Finally, Cressida is happy to have Max assemble the family and guests together, where she presents her evidence and outs her suspect, all the while making it sound as though DCI Andrews had actually named the perpetrator.
Cressida not only solves the multiple murders, but also the robbery of those all-important family diamonds (although it was actually a very ‘dogged’ Ruby, who with her belly full of leftovers, really put her nose to the ground), all whilst managing to save Dorothy from a fate worse than death and keeping her reputation intact.
This multi-layered, highly textured, traditional murder/mystery storyline was well structured and fluently written over many concise and well signposted chapters, which kept the action fast paced and seamlessly evolving, with literally never a dull moment. The suspect list was lengthy, as it included the names of all the family and staff of the household, plus their many visiting weekend guests. The twists and turns just kept on coming right until the final scene and I simply couldn’t avoid being tripped up by the red herrings, liberally spread along the way to put myself, The Honourable Cressida and indeed the police of Scotland Yard, off the scent. In fact, although I had followed and agreed with many of Cressida’s deducements about the order and nature of events, I would never have been in a position to point the finger at the correct guilty party, as she inevitably did.
The physical footprint this story occupied, was quite finely focussed, however the narrative and dialogue were crisp and visually descriptive, affording a genuine sense of time and place. Enough for any avid ‘armchair traveller’, depends on just how immersed you want to become in the 1920s era, with all its associated social mores, but personally, I was more than satisfied.
The Right Honourable Cressida Fawcett is a bit of an enigma within her social class and amongst her circle of friends and family. She is a progressive and independent female of the times and has no intentions of following Dorothy, or any of her other friends, down the aisle anytime soon, most firmly shunning all attempts at getting her to make a ‘suitable’ liaison and marriage. However, she does not entirely deny all the protocols and privileges her title endows her with, but rather uses them to their full advantage in gaining favours and opening doors for her, and her reputation for making the most of her freedoms, partying long and hard, is legendary. She has her dog, her car and a great network of friends, what more could a thoroughly modern girl want!!
A large, sprawling cast of guest characters occupied this storyline, none of which, including Cressida’s hosts are particularly likeable, with the possible exception of the rather hapless Dorothy, although even she was on my suspect list at one point. Selfish, demanding, manipulative and duplicitous, are all words which come readily to mind, to describe this eclectic mix of the upper classes, who all seem to be jostling for some unspoken recognition or position, which made for a very unreliable, volatile and toxic atmosphere whenever they were around, meaning I was always on the edge of my seat and alert for their sudden changes in demeanour and temperament, which might indicate their guilt.
Any future relationship between Max and Cressida, isn’t really even off the starting blocks just yet, although there are definitely sparks of mutual respect and attraction simmering away beneath the surface. Notwithstanding the quite large age disparity between them, the rather unpredictable nature of Max’s job and given the past history between Max and Cressida’s father, I’m sure that everything is not going to be plain sailing for them. However, I am equally certain that Cressida will fight tooth and nail, by fair means or foul, to get her own way if she so desires, especially as Ruby’s all important affirmative, deciding vote has already been cast.
This story definitely ticked all the right boxes for the reasons I read this particular genre of book every now and then, and how I want to feel when I have finished the last word and closed that final page. Part of what always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new series, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses, even though I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor probably the next. So why 4.5* rather than 5*? There were just a couple of small niggles for me, that I wasn’t able to block out. The way that Cressida constantly called everyone (but mostly Dorothy) ‘chum’, really grated. And the fact that a dead body could be removed from the premises and all physical signs of the incident have been thoroughly cleaned, before the police arrived. Therefore, I recommend that you read “Death Among The Diamonds” for yourself, to see where your journey leads you! It certainly isn’t going to deter me from following Cressida’s adventures, whenever I have the opportunity.
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up to 5.
Thank you so much for taking time to read my review, I appreciate your support.