Hugo Duckworth returns for another mystery related to his work in the British intelligence services trying to seek out traitors in their midst in A Question of Inheritance, sequel to A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson. In late 1953, Hugo and his uncle, Priest Leo, have located evidence that the late Lord Selchester had actually gotten married while in university and produced a male heir, unknown even to Lord Selchester. Thus Lord Augustin “Gus” Selchester, the 18th Earl, has come from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he serves as a top scholar of classical Rome. Widowed during the war, Gus brings his two daughters, 17-year-old Lady Barbara “Babs” and 13-year-old Lady Pauline “Polly,” to live in Selchester Castle.
The arrival of the new earl and his family is not without discord. Hugo’s 13-year-old sister, Georgia, resents the newcomers because their presence means that she and Hugo will have to move out of the castle that she has quickly come to call home. This also means that another person who will have to move is Freya, cousin to Lord Selchester. As an impoverished relative of the family, she had been relegated to serving as caretaker of the castle during the seven years between the murder of the 17th earl and the discovery of his body.
But before the former owners have to leave, which presents real challenges because of the huge housing shortage in post-World War II England, they all celebrate Christmas together, which gets crashed by Lady Sonia, the half-sister of the new earl, along with her “fiance” and an art expert, Oliver. He claims to be there to offer a consultation to the new earl on his very valuable art treasures, a portion of which Gus will have to sell off in order to afford the massive death duties. However, Lady Sonia has other reasons for bringing Oliver to Selchester Castle. She has hidden away a secret collection of art with dubious provenances, hints of plundered art from the war, something Hugo has been investigating for the intelligence services. Oliver visibly blanches when he sees the art and changes his demeanor, claiming illness in order to skip Christmas dinner.
There is plenty of personal drama involved with the arrival of the Americans who have some difficulty settling into the ancient castle after having been used to their modern life in the States. But then Hugo learns that Gus has been the victim of several attempts on his life that have been made to look like accidents, including almost going overboard on the ship to England, a speeding car’s hit-and-run attempt, and a cross-bow getting set off almost to hit Gus. Hugo cannot figure out the motive for these attempts, unless somehow they are related to the fact that his daughters will not inherit his enormous new estate unless he lives a full year from the date of the certification of the 17th earl’s death. Lady Sonia, a very rich woman in her own right, has been deeply embittered at having to lose the full estate, which she had intended to sell off to resort developers. But despite her poor moral sense, no one really believes that Lady Sonia is capable of cold-blooded murder.
On Christmas Eve, an electrical circuit gets blown, which leads Gus to explore the electrical system, one of Gus’s hobbies, which he discovers is so antiquated that the whole system is ready to blow. So rather than try to wait for an electrician to become available, Gus decides to make the repairs himself, which sends the gossip mill in Selchester going wild! On the morning of Boxing Day, Gus and Hugo go to the hothouse, only to find Oliver dead there, a victim of electrocution. But who was the intended victim? Oliver, with whom no one in the community has had any connection, or Gus, the 18th Earl, against whom there have been death attempts? Because any happenings in Selchester affect the government intelligence agency, Hugo acts as liaison between the agency and the local police, working hard to solve this mystery.
I really enjoyed the first book, A Man of Some Repute, but I loved this book even better. I found all the depictions of art crimes during World War II fascinating and enjoyed the dynamic among the various members of the Selchester family and the non-family members who either live in the castle or have come for the Christmas holiday.
Michael Page performs the narration of the audio version of this book. He creates good voices for each part and makes the book highly enjoyable.
I thought A Question of Inheritance to be a remarkable book, and it ran through very quickly, almost too quickly for my taste because I enjoyed the book so much. The book left a few loose ends, so I really hope that Edmondson continues this fabulous series. I give it five stars!
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