With her life in some upheaval, Patricia Merton is looking forward to getting away to a shooting party at the country home of her old friend, Jimmy. Pat is a champion shooter and she is eager for some time at the remote estate. However, what starts out as a small group of like-minded hunting enthusiasts turns out to be a much bigger social event and Pat faces a houseful of people rather than a quiet retreat.
One of the guests is Jimmy’s fiancé, Fenella Carruth. Fen is beautiful and lush and vibrant, and Pat finds herself captivated by the other woman. Pat knows she best stay away from Fen — the woman is her friend’s fiancé, after all. But Fen is so engaging and Jimmy barely seems to even acknowledge his lovely bride-to-be, and Pat has a hard time staying away.
Even as Pat and Fen’s friendship begins to deepen, all is not well at the house party. Between Jimmy’s horrific brother-in-law who makes every interaction a chore; bribery, scandal, and loads of secrets among the guests; plus a crushing downpour, everything is pretty much a disaster except for Pat’s feelings for Fen. But when a body is found, things take an even darker turn. Someone is the killer and everyone has secrets to protect. With everyone trapped in the house until the police can make it out through the flooded roads, Pat and Fen are determined to figure out the killer before it is too late for them all.
Oh, this story was such a delight! I was completely captivated and could barely put it down. Proper English develops a wonderful relationship between Pat and Fen, and then adds to it the drama of a remote country house party filled with interesting (and abhorrent) characters, along with a murder mystery twist. K.J. Charles just excels at wonderful character development and excellent historical elements and both are showcased perfectly in this story.
Pat is our POV character and she is as fascinating as she is impressive. Pat grew up in a home with four brothers and a father who treated her like one of the boys. She is insanely competent and has been managing the family home for years. Basically, Pat is one of those women who just knows how to get stuff done and she doesn’t let other people’s opinion’s gets in the way. However, with her oldest brother now marrying, Pat is at loose ends as she needs to find a new place to live and a new direction for her life (while Pat could technically stay in the family home, she knows she is way too much of a manager to avoid conflict with her new sister-in-law). This house party is supposed to be a chance for Pat to relax and regroup, but suddenly there is an influx of people with whom she is expected to socialize. Of course, when Pat meets the lovely Fen, this prospect isn’t quite so daunting.
While everyone treats Pat like the practical, competent woman that she is, they treat Fen as a vapid, beautiful woman who needs care taking. At first it seems like Fen is, in fact, exactly that. But it doesn’t take long before Pat realizes that there is much more to Fen than meets the eye. This is a woman who wants to be taken seriously, but who just needs someone to believe in her and give her a chance. Watching these women together is so lovely because they each see much more in one another than appears on the surface. Both Pat and Fen have been put in little boxes from which they want to break free, and I loved watching them evolve over the course of the story.
Their character growth plays nicely with the historical elements in the story. One of the things I love about Charles’ writing is that I feel like I learn something new every time I read her books. There is so much interesting nuance and a wonderful sense of time and place to her books that blends beautifully with the story itself. In this case, I particularly loved the way this story showcases the roles and expectations of women at the time (as well as watching Pat and Fen subvert them over the course of the story). Fen notes at one point how she was brought up to essentially listen to her husband talk and make his life pleasant. She is considered decorative and fragile, someone who is lovely but can’t be counted on for much. Adding in that she is a wealthy heiress, she is valued by most for her appearance and her money, rather than herself. In Pat’s case, she is not interested in most traditionally feminine pursuits. Her incredible skill shooting and her upbringing give her access to the men’s world, but it is clear she is caught somewhat in between. Basically, the men accept her in their midst by treating her like she is one of them, going as far as to call her “old thing” and “old girl” and they see her as one of the boys, rather than treating her the way they do other women. Charles just gives so many interesting layers to these characters and the story develops so nicely around them.
Once Pat and Fen find their way together, things turn into a house party, murder mystery romp that I totally loved. There is almost a sense of a Clue game come to life as Pat and Fen try to track down the whereabouts of all the guests at the crucial moment. Everyone seems to have alibis, which means someone is lying, and we follow along as Pat and Fen dig in to who is behind it all. I found the mystery engaging and I definitely was in suspense figuring out the culprit. Along with that, it is great seeing not only the women work together to solve the crime, but also watching Fen come into her own as she takes the lead.
So this story was just delightful and I loved everything about it. The characters are fascinating and well developed, the setting is detailed and well integrated into the story, and the mystery is fun and exciting. Proper English is just fabulous and I can highly recommend it.