With her husband, amateur-sleuth the Honorable Barnaby Adair, decidedly eccentric fashionable matron Penelope Adair is attending the premier event opening the haut ton’s Season when a body is discovered in the gardens. A lady has been struck down with a finial from the terrace balustrade. Her family is present, as are the cream of the haut ton—the shocked hosts turn to Barnaby and Penelope for help.
Barnaby calls in Inspector Basil Stokes and they begin their investigation. Penelope assists by learning all she can about the victim’s family, and uncovers a feud between them and the Latimers over the fabulous shoes known as Lady Latimer’s shoes, currently exclusive to the Latimers.
The deeper Penelope delves, the more convinced she becomes that the murder is somehow connected to the shoes. She conscripts Griselda, Stokes’s wife, and Violet Montague, now Penelope’s secretary, and the trio set out to learn all they can about the people involved, and most importantly the shoes, a direction vindicated when unexpected witnesses report seeing a lady fleeing the scene—wearing Lady Latimer’s shoes.
But nothing is as it seems, and the more Penelope and her friends learn about the shoes, conundrums abound, compounded by a Romeo-and-Juliet romance and escalating social pressure…until at last the pieces fall into place, and finally understanding what has occurred, the six intrepid investigators race to prevent an even worse tragedy. (Goodreads)
Um. Well. Frankly, I wish Stephanie Laurens would stick to writing romance with a touch of mystery, instead of mystery with a very little touch of romance. This book fell really flat for me. The mystery isn’t all that compelling. The exclusivity of Lady Latimer’s shoes (a type of shoe, not a single pair), their utility in snagging young ladies a husband, and the jealousy they evoke — enough to lead to murder — all seem far-fetched. The murder victim goes from being a sympathetic character at the beginning to almost unregretted by everyone at the end, and a long-time friendship makes little sense in light of what we eventually learn about her. And the mystery’s solution is unsatisfactory in several ways.
None of that would matter quite so much if the mystery were incidental to the romance, but it’s the other way around. The romance is tiny and gets very little page time – which may be just as well, given that it’s not all that interesting, either. The romantic couple aren’t even the main characters! Contrasted with a book like Laurens’ All About Love, where a compelling romance takes center stage and the murder investigation lends tension, danger, and suspense, The Curious Case of Lady Latimer’s Shoes is curiously lackluster.
The only upside for me was spending some time with Barnaby and Penelope Adair, and to a lesser extent Stokes and Griselda, and Montague and Violet. They’re familiar to me from earlier books, and I’ve always liked the first four; the last two I’m still getting to know. But a short story could have served the same purpose and kept more of the focus on those couples.
I really hate to give a Stephanie Laurens book a bad review — I’ve been a fan of hers for almost 15 years. But if you want to read any of her work, read the first few Cynster books instead. This is one I wish I’d skipped.
Rating: 2 stars, barely
Category: Mystery; not exactly historical romance
Series: The Casebooks of Barnaby Adair #2.5
Publisher: Savdek Management Pty. Ltd (the author’s company)
Release date: June 2014
Book source: purchased (Kindle)
The Casebooks of Barnaby Adair (in order):
1. Where the Heart Leads (Penelope and Barnaby; Stokes & Griselda are a secondary romance)
1.5 The Peculiar Case of Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds (reviewed 1/23/14)
2. The Masterful Mister Montague (Montague and Violet)
2.5 The Curious Case of Lady Latimer’s Shoes (this review)
3. Loving Rose (review coming next week) (Hint – it’s a lot better!)