FAMILY PLOT – Sheri Cobb South
Another John Pickett Mystery , Book 3
Five Star / Cengage
Late November 2014
London and Scotland, October 1808
Julia, Lady Fieldhurst is a widow of six months. Though outwardly in mourning, she is rather glad to be out from under her unhappy marriage and ready to enjoy her relative freedom. Hmm. Relative and freedom, though, don't seem to be words that go together in her case. She's still under the thumbs of her mother-in-law and her late husband's cousin and heir, George, the new Viscount Fieldhurst. Unfortunately, she gets further into their bad graces by publicly acknowledging Mr. John Pickett, a Bow Street Runner and the man who proved her innocent of her husband's murder. George and the dowager send her out of London to weather this new disgrace. They ship her to a family estate in the far north of Scotland accompanied by George's three sons: Edward, eight; Robert, twelve; and Harold, eighteen. The poor boys—and the world—recently learned that their mother was never married to their father.
Over the border on the way to their exile, Julia and her nephews decide to stop at an inn by the sea. Confident no one will recognize them, but to be safe, Julia gives a name unknown to the polite world. She calls herself Mrs. Pickett.
All might have been well if Edward hadn't found a body washed up on shore. The body doesn't turn out to be dead, however. She is a woman around thirty who bears a striking resemblance to the once beloved stepdaughter of the man whose manor they go to for help…the daughter who disappeared and was thought drowned fifteen years ago after a serious quarrel with her father. There is an estate and a fortune involved, plus two male cousins, an old man, and a will. Guess who is brought in to investigate the woman's identity.
When John Pickett arrives at the inn with his boss—who decided to do a little fishing in Scotland—he's startled to hear his wife is already checked in.
Now, there exists a huge gulf between Julia's and John's stations in life. If there weren't, a romance might very well have developed during the time they worked together to find her husband's murderer. That gulf is still there, but what would be wrong with letting the world think they are man and wife for a while as they look into things…as long as they don't share a room?
Ms. South has a light touch with the mystery while keeping up the suspense. Add a death or two to the question of the woman's identity and the excellent portrayal of the characters' quirks and motives, and you have a fast and ultimately fun read. As the tale came to its satisfying conclusion, it became evident we had not reached the end of the John Pickett mysteries, nor the last of Lady Julia's adventures. I was glad, for they are a winsome pair.