First in a new series of cozy mysteries set in the Regency era, The Body in the Garden follows widow Lily Adler as she settles into a new life in London, determined to make her way and find some sort of place for herself following the death of her husband at too young an age. Accompanied by Navy captain Jack Hartley and beautiful West Indian heiress Miss Ofelia Oswald, Lily determines to find justice for a young man whose murder she accidentally overhears when the magistrates choose not to have Bow Street investigate the case.
There’s an interesting examination of the role of the young widow in Regency society as Lily tries to figure out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life; not even thirty, she’s basically expected to find herself another husband as soon as possible, but she loved her husband and she’s not at all sure she wants to remarry. A clever woman - she shows flashes of Holmesian deductive ability at times - she has no intention of settling.
I wouldn’t say there’s any hint of romance here, though I did get the definite impression Jack was falling head over heels for Lily; there was also a Bow Street Runner I think rather admired her who I suspect will feature more heavily in future books in the series, but don’t go into this looking for Lily to find love again. What she does find is purpose, as she uses her wits and her resources to pursue the murderer.
Something I really enjoyed in this book was the fact that Regency London wasn’t (unrealistically) presented as being all-white; Jack is the son of an English father and an Indian mother and Ofelia is the daughter of an English father and a Black woman. Ofelia’s actually inspired by Miss Lambe of Jane Austen’s Sanditon and it’s fascinating to see the portrayal of how high society would have welcomed her wealth while secretly looking down their noses because of her mixed race. Lily has Black servants, something that would have been quite common in that day, especially among those households not quite at the echelon of the upper class, a category into which Lily fits as a gentleman’s widow.
The mystery was intriguing (and plausible) and I loved Lily and the other principal characters. This was a seriously good read and I’m really looking forward to the next in the series. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.