The Deathly Portent is a historical mystery by British author Elizabeth Bailey, and is the second Lady Fan Mystery. The first instalment being The Gilded Shroud which I have not read hopefully shouldn’t harm to read them out of order. Elizabeth Bailey is a new author for me but the genre of book is certainly not. I read the words mystery, crime, murder, Georgian setting, and a Lady sleuth and I was sold on this book! I have recently read quite a few surreal reads and desperately reached for this book hoping for a bit of comfort from one of my favourite genres.
The Deathly Portent follows the adventures of the notorious Lady sleuth Ottilia, recently made Lady Francis Fanshawe. Ottilia and her new husband Lord Fanshawe have been visiting family after their honeymoon when they find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when their carriage breaks. They are drawn towards the small village of Witherley seeking food, shelter, and a mystery. For Ottilia has heard rumours of a terrible murder and witchcraft. On arriving in Witherley and meetings its odd ball collection of inhabitants Ottilia finds out the local blacksmith Duggleby has been found dead in his forge with the roof caved in. The villagers are convinced this is the work of the Widow Dale who they believe is a witch. While the hammer blow to the back of Duggleby’s head sets Ottilia believing something far more sinister is going on.
I made a slow start on The Deathly Portent due to me starting it during a rather stressful period of time for me, but actually this book was exactly what I needed. I have been hankering after a bit of cozy crime for sometime now and this was the fix I needed. An added bonus to The Deathly Portent was the historical setting. There is nothing better than a mystery to sweep you away other than a historical mystery to sweep you away. The setting for which Elizabeth Bailey got spot on. The rural descriptions were perfect, the dress, manners, and language were all very good too. I didn’t notice one slip up and I always think the key to historical fiction is continuity especially in the language used. There was to be an extra added bonus for me as I started to read the description of the location of Witherley. Apparently it was just up the road from Atherstone and sits upon a tributary of the Anker river. My hometown is just up the road from Atherstone and is actually built upon the Anker river itself! What a lovely coincidence, I thought.
The real star of this book though is of course Ottilia and the mystery she is trying to solve. I instantly loved Ottilia because she is intelligent, witty, attractive, loving, and independent. Although sometimes her heart can over-rule her head which could often lead to some mis-adventures for our heroine. Her faithful husband and side-kick Lord Fanshawe was another interesting character who proved his worth on many such mis-adventures. The mystery Ottilia is on the trail of is constantly twisting and turning, leaving almost all the inhabitants of Witherley under suspicion and so Ottilia methodically interrogates them all but often they don’t realise she is interrogated them! I actually think I had landed on the culprit before our intrepid Lady Fan but it didn’t dampen the enjoyment of the culminating climax of the book.
Overall The Deathly Portent was a thoroughly enjoyable read. A strong mystery, a well executed setting, and an even stronger heroine to boot. I really will have to keep an eye out for more of Elizabeth Bailey’s work from now on.
I received a free copy of The Deathly Portent from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.