As a lifelong resident of Kentucky but an ardent fan of British mystery and crime books, how could I not be drawn to a new series featuring a young woman from Kentucky who is betrothed to a young English lord. Add to that Stella Kendrick is an independent thinking horsewoman whose father is famous for his race horses and horse farm, and Murder at Morrington Hall is an irresistible read for me. The time period is a favorite of mine, too, the early 1900s, 1905 to be exact, when so much change is occurring in the world, and inventions are on the rise to bring the 20th century into a wonder of convenience never before seen. The Daimler car Stella, her father and her aunt arrive in at the English estate of Morrington Hall is the first taste that the proper English family of Lord and Lady Atherly have of the Americans and their faster, less formal approach to life and an example of the changes coming. And, there is the matter of murder to sweeten the pot.
Stella Kendrick is excited that her father has included her in his trip to England where he is taking his prize thoroughbred and a couple of other horses to an English estate where their stable is in dire need of new blood. Her father even included Stella's horse Tully that she rides so that she wouldn't miss him while in England. And, while visiting, there will be a wedding to attend. Or, this is the scenario Stella believes up until it becomes painfully obvious upon arrival and upon meeting Viscount "Lyndy" Lyndhurst, the son of Lord and Lady Atherly, that the real reason for the horses accompanying them is a marriage deal between the set of parents, that the wedding is to be hers. With Stella's mother being deceased, it is Stella's unfeeling father who decides that his daughter will help to raise his social standing by marrying the young Lord Lyndhurst. Furious with her father and tripping all over herself from being out of step with the English way of doing things, Stella is miserable. So, she does what she has always done in her loneliness growing up with a disinterested father, she goes to the stable for comfort from her horse where she runs into Lyndy, who also uses horses as an escape from tedious responsibilities. While they do bond over their love of riding, and Lyndy is quite the charming, considerate man, Stella is far from convinced that marrying him is her fate. Of course, she soon has an encounter with her father who ensures her that she will do as he says. Mr. Kendrick is not a nice man, and readers will be impressed by Stella's strength in the face of his brutality.
As is the English custom, tea must be observed that first afternoon, and the vicar who is to marry the couple will appear at tea to discuss matters. When the vicar doesn't show up at the appointed time, Lyndy offers to show Stella around the house while they look for him, as the vicar was to have been waiting at the house. The two find the vicar in the library, but he won't be performing anybody's wedding every again. He is dead and it is murder. Yes, my anglophile self, lover of British mystery, is quite happy with the "dead in the manor's library and found at tea time" situation. But, this is no simple Professor Plum in the library with the fire poker. Well, it was the fire poker, but finding the murderer is going to be a journey any mystery reader will savor. Stella and Lyndy learn to trust each other quickly as they are thrown into uncovering facts and evidence that will lead to the killer. While Stella's American style of conducting herself may clash with the English approach, it is helpful to her and Lyndy's efforts to accomplish that goal, and Lyndy gets the chance to see Stella as she really is, something he is intrigued by and most receptive to.
I can say without a doubt in my mind that Clara McKenna has given readers the first book in what will be a winning series. The consistency of its engaging writing from page to page is what makes it a book that's unputdownable. Murder at Morrington Hall is simply a well-written, captivating story. The characters have all been given an excellent start in their development. Stella and Lyndy have already shown a maturing of minds and an ability to evolve into a future that they control. Their witty dialogue demonstrates the intelligence and relatability of the two. While Stella's father and Lyndy's parents could be said to be stereotypical of the boorish American and the uptight British, it is the place where they must naturally start, with the future determining whether they can overcome their prejudicial temperaments. The minor characters that include Lyndy's sister Alice, the staff, and the police have also presented a great potential for growth and inclusion in the continuing story line. And, the setting should get a nod, too, the New Forest region with its wild New Forest ponies and countryside. It speaks of much mystery to unfold, which every great mystery series should have.
Another aspect of the series that interests me is the historical fact in which it's based of the American "Dollar Princesses," who married into British aristocracy for a better social standing and for a much-needed infusion of money for the British aristocrat whom the rich American woman was marrying. McKenna's fictional book is likely to cause further examination of this practice in the real life stories of such well-known people as Winston Churchill, whose mother was a "Dollar Princess." This mutually beneficial arrangement of Americans gaining status and British gaining money happened between the late 19th century and WWII.
I received a copy of Murder at Morrington Hall from the author, and my review is my absolute true assessment of how much I enjoyed it and how much I think other readers will love it, too.