LAST NOCTURNE - Marjorie Eccles
I always think of these books as Jane Austen meets Crime Fiction. Which is probably somewhere between extremely unfair and absolutely acceptable depending on your own particular point of view. LAST NOCTURNE is from author Marjorie Eccles - who is best known in these parts for the Gil Mayo series, which was made into a short TV series that became quite a favourite.
Whilst Grace Thurley's decision to break off her engagement to a rather pompous local man secretly pleases her mother, moving to London to take up the position of paid companion and secretary to Dulcie Martagon is regarded slightly more sceptically. Dulcie has been recently widowed, when her art gallery owning husband Eliot seemingly committed suicide. Whilst there's nothing immediately suspicious about the death of Martagon, why a supposedly contended, slightly conventional man would have taken such extreme action makes no sense to anybody. What makes even less sense is the suspected suicide of an up and coming young artist, whose only connection to Martagon seems to be the exhibition of his paintings in Martagon's gallery. As Inspector Lamb digs it seems that young Theo Benton's death isn't so easily written off as suicide. Meanwhile a connection to Vienna and the mysterious widow of independent means Isobel Amberly indicates that all was not as it seemed in Eliot Martagon's life, regardless of what his widow may think.
Set in 1909 this is a very classically styled tale with a lot of traditional elements. The son, Guy Martagon has to fall for the quietly competent paid companion Grace, although the romance doesn't get going until much later in the book. The young daughter of the household has to be a little bit of a tear-away at some stage. Dulcie Martagon has to be just a little bit not quite right for her station in life and poor Eliot has to be, well poor Eliot I guess. There are some twists from the expected though, and the reader is taken into the life of Eliot, in particular, his time in Vienna as well as that of Louise Amberly. The police investigation into the deaths runs alongside the various family machinations until all is revealed.
There's just a little touch of spice, although nothing risky or questionable for readers who prefer things on the slightly more chaste side, but overall the book has quite a feeling of the time and society in which it is set. Having said that, this is not my preferred sort of reading fare, and I will confess I struggled enormously with the predictability of much of the ancillary story lines - the romance and the high and mighty attitude of Dulcie come to mind immediately. But that's very much a personal reaction and I suspect that readers who are not adverse to a little romance will find the intrigue around Eliot's life extremely satisfying. Add to that a little feeling of the tensions and difficulties of Vienna in that period of history and this could be just the book for fans of this sort of historical crime fiction.
What could make a successful, happily married man like Eliot Martagon take a gun and shoot himself? What made Theo Benton, a young artist on the brink of fame, throw himself to his death?
These are the questions facing the dapper Chief Inspector Lamb and his stolid assistant, Detective Sergeant Cogan. Neither victim left a note behind to explain what drove them to take their own lives, and it appears that nothing untoward had occurred in the weeks preceding their deaths. But something must have led them to take such drastic action, and Lamb intends to find out what it was.