The Peculiar Case of Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds is a novella featuring Barnaby Adair and his wife Penelope (nee Ashford) and Inspector Stokes and his wife Griselda, all characters from 2008’s Where the Heart Leads. Laurens has long planned a series of historical mystery-cum-romances involving Barnaby and Stokes, and the second novel in the series is due to release in late April (The Masterful Mr. Montague, featuring the oft-mentioned but rarely seen “man of business” who deals with the Cynsters’ financial affairs.)
Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds falls between the first and second novels, and it’s far more of a mystery than a romance. A man has been found dead on a path leading to Lord Finsbury’s estate during a house party. As the man’s face has been bludgeoned in by a sledgehammer, and the famous Finsbury diamonds were found in his pocket, his death clearly calls for an investigation. If the victim, who had been asked to leave the house party several days previously, was a thief, why was he returning to the house with the diamonds when he was killed? And why did he first send a letter requesting to meet with the daughter of the house – the same daughter on whom he had attempted to press his unwelcome attentions?
As chief investigator, Barnaby is the novella’s central character, but the point of view shifts frequently from Barnaby to the very pregnant Penelope, Stokes, and even Lord Finsbury’s daughter and her suitor — the romantic leads, though oddly not the main characters. Frankly, there are more POV characters than a novella of this length should really have, and I couldn’t help thinking that it might have been better to tell the story as a straight mystery. . . except that of course, Laurens is known for writing historical romance, so her readers would of course expect it. (A note for those familiar with Laurens’ usually steamy, explicit style: there’s not much of that here, and what there is doesn’t really fit the mood of the overall story. Frankly, I’d have been just as happy without it.)
I was a little disappointed in the mystery, which felt a little flat and seemed almost lifted from a Christie short story. It isn’t, as far as I can remember, and I’m pretty familiar with the Christie canon. But it certainly has that feel without ever achieving a Christie-esque suspense, as though Laurens had cobbled together several familiar elements. I solved more than half of the mystery pretty quickly, although I didn’t deduce the extent of an accomplice’s involvement nor the murderer’s motive.
Die-hard Laurens fans will probably buy the novella, but they may be disappointed. It’s interesting that although Avon is publishing the full-length novels in the series, Stephanie Laurens’s own company is producing the e-novellas. That may account for some of the flatness and the unfocused feeling of the multiple POVs; I don’t know if Ms. Laurens worked with an editor or just with a copyeditor/proofreader. Technically, the ebook is as professional as anything I’ve seen from a major publishing house: clean and mostly well-formatted, although the cover looks more like a classic Christie or Sayers cover than the typical Avon romance. The $3.99 cover price seems a bit high for a short novella, especially when many of her other short stories and novellas have been available for $1.99 in the past.
I’ll probably still read The Masterful Mr. Montague (although seriously, who came up with that title?), both because I’m curious about Montague and because I think the flaws in Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds are an aberration. But given that I was also a little disappointed in Laurens’s last romance, I’ll be heading into it with as much wariness as enthusiasm.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Category: historical mystery; romantic suspense
Series: The Casebooks of Barnaby Adair #1.5
Publisher: Savdek Management Proprietary Limited
Release date: Jan. 6, 2014
Book source: purchased
About the author: Stephanie Laurens was born in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and raised in Australia. She trained as a biochemist; she and her husband spent four years in Great Britain working as research scientist before returning to Australia. One night, she ran out of her favorite romances, and decided to write her own. Once her books were selling well, Laurens left the world of scientific research to write full-time. She is the author of around 40 historical romances, most set in the Regency and post-Regency era, and has contributed to a number of anthologies as well. Most of her books are related in some way to her Cynster series. (adapted from the official bio found on the author’s website)