Thursday, January 19, 2023

ARC Review: A Fashionable Fatality by Alyssa Maxwell

A Fashionable Fatality

Alyssa Maxwell
Series: A Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery (Book 8)
Publication: Kensington (January 24, 2023)

Description: Set in the Downton Abbey era of post-WW1 England, Alyssa Maxwell’s latest historical mystery finds sleuthing duo Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, investigating a murder at a house party attended by fashion royalty. This evocative, well-crafted historical series appeals to fans of Rhys Bowen, Deanna Raybourn and Victoria Thompson.

Amid the aftermath of the Great War and its hardships, it’s no wonder that many wish to rediscover life’s pleasures—parties, fashion, dancing. Still, Lady Phoebe and Eva are disconcerted when a small gathering at the home of Phoebe’s sister, Julia, becomes a far larger and more glamorous affair . . . Julia has invited her favorite French fashion designer, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, and Coco’s current beau, the Earl of Chesterhaven.

Coco has brought an entourage of her own, including two models, and intends to use the gardens as a photographic setting for her latest creations. Madame Chanel is as outspoken as she is talented, offering a scathing critique of Phoebe’s fashion sense.

There is tense competition between the models as well. When one of the guests is found dead of smoke inhalation, it appears to be a tragic accident. But was a footman really to blame for mistakenly closing the fireplace flue, or is there a more sinister explanation? Phoebe is determined to find out, despite the protestations of her sweetheart, Owen Seabright.  Both above and below stairs, Phoebe and Eva uncover myriad motives—career ambition, romantic rivalries, and even deeper betrayals. For despite the surface beauty, there are ugly secrets in the world of Maison Chanel, ones that a killer will risk anything to protect.

My Thoughts: The eighth in A Lady and a Lady's Maid mystery series has Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her maid Eva Huntford attending a house party at Lady Phoebe's sister Julia's home. Also in attendance are fashion designer Coco Chanel and her retinue who are there to take some photos of Coco's newest collection.

There are lots of undercurrents among the retinue. The photographer Narcisse seems to have conducted affairs with a few of them. And Coco's lover Ralph Hewitt-Davies, Earl of Chesterhaven, has also had an affair with the lead mannequin Suzette Villiers who is extremely jealous that Coco has brought in a new, younger mannequin named India Vale.

When Suzette is found dead in her bedroom from smoke inhalation, Julia wants to blame the head footman for not checking that the flue was open, but Phoebe and Eva are more inclined to believe that it was murder. 

As they investigate, they learn more about the twisted history Suzette had with the others in Coco's retinue. And Phoebe is busy trying to keep her sister from falling for Coco's pressure to model her new line of clothing - something no upper class woman in 1921 England would ever be allowed to do. While Phoebe herself is tempted by Coco's new line that takes male tweeds and remakes them in a much more feminine way.

Phoebe is also having some qualms about her beau Owen's vision of their future. He seems to have been developing dictatorial tendencies that make Phoebe fear for her independence. 

I enjoyed this mystery. I liked that Phoebe conducted the above stairs aspect of the investigation while Eva ably handled the below stairs aspects of the investigation. I liked the way they worked as almost equal partners considering the barriers class imposed. 

This is the first of the series that I have read. I am eager to read earlier books in this series to learn more about the other mysteries Lady Phoebe and Eva have solved. 

Favorite Quote:
"I think you are someone who seeks trouble, non?"

Eva put up a hand. "I wouldn't put it that way."

"Trouble, excitement. Say it as you will, but you like it, Eva, do you not?" Before Eva could reply, Claudette leaned closer. "Remember this. Suzette enjoyed excitement, too. And she loved to stir up trouble."
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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