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Book Review: How To Solve Murders Like A Lady by Hannah Dolby

Book Review: How To Solve Murders Like A Lady by Hannah Dolby

Unconventional Victorian heroine Violet Hamilton makes a triumphant return in How to Solve Murders Like a Lady, the sequel to Hannah Dolby’s joyful debut historical novel which won readers’ hearts last year. The previous book saw Violet embarking on the tentative beginnings of her journey as a Lady Detective, whilst simultaneously trying to muddle her way through complicated family dynamics including a missing mother and a distant father. In this book she’s a fully-fledged sleuth solving mysteries in the bustling seaside town of Hastings and St Leonards with her new fiancé, the heart-flutteringly handsome and capable Benjamin Blackthorn, by her side. But, of course, this is 19th century England and the world isn’t quite ready for a female Sherlock Holmes. They’re not even ready for women to have strong opinions or intelligent thoughts. Which is a bit of a problem for a determined and inquisitive woman like Violet.

Having solved the mysterious disappearance of her mother last time around, the central case in this book is the shocking death of a local woman who is found on the beach after the town’s Harvest Ball. Violet might not have liked the victim but she knows when something suspicious is afoot, and the murder of Mrs Withers is certainly enough to set off her investigative instincts. With Benjamin by her side, Violet begins looking into the strange circumstances leading up to the murder, but when he’s called away to Scotland to settle an old case, Violet sets out to solve the mystery on her own. Things take a turn for the worse when Benjamin is implicated in another crime and Violet suddenly has a second case on her hands: proving the innocence of the man she’s becoming increasingly attached to.

Life was good, full of recent achievements and adventures to come. I had an exemplary fiancé and a fledgling career as a Lady Detective. It was only a tiny setback to be trapped in an oast house full of hens.

Reuniting with Violet and Benjamin for round two of middle-class scandals and seaside mysteries is a genuine joy. If book one set the scene for the two characters to become a loveable crime-solving duo, this book quickly establishes them as a couple to be both respected and dreaded, depending on which side of the law a person stands. Benjamin’s self-assured and unruffled manner is the perfect foil for Violet’s impulsive, act-first-think-later attitude. Dolby has written an enviable Victorian love interest; a man who’s smart, kind and resourceful, but also one who would never dream of holding Violet back, even when her impetuous ideas threaten to get them both into trouble. He brings out the best in her, nurturing her cleverness and celebrating her wins, whilst always being there to offer quiet advice and a soft shoulder to lean on when she meets a hurdle in the road.

Yet this has always been Violet’s story and Dolby is wise not to let wonderful Benjamin overshadow our heroine. Sending him off on solo missions is a great way of allowing Violet to grow on her own, as well as showing her just how much she misses her betrothed when he’s gone. Violet has come a long way from the naïve young woman we met at the beginning of the first book. Whilst she still has an unfortunate knack of getting herself into amusing scrapes (from being locked in a hen house by a disgruntled farmer to voluntarily checking herself into a dubious Hydropathic Establishment – all in the name of sleuthing!), she’s quickly learnt that to be a Lady Detective in a men’s world means she has to be smarter, braver and bolder than those around her. But if anyone’s up to the challenge, it’s Violet.

Dolby brings historic Hastings and St Leonards to life with vivid descriptions of the impressive architecture and inventions of the time. The whole book has a lively seaside atmosphere that feels inherently British, as do the deep-rooted societal hierarchies and prejudices that Dolby deftly weaves into the story. Told with witty humour and plenty of emotional heart, Violet’s story has always been about a woman rising above the station imposed upon her by men and proving – both to those around her and to herself – that she’s capable of anything when she sets her mind to it. The ending wraps everything up nicely and though many readers won’t be ready to say goodbye to Violet and Benjamin just yet, if this is the last we read of them, it’s a pleasure to end their story on a resounding high.

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★★★★★

How To Solve Murders Like A Lady was published by Aria on 6 June 2024

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