A Sinister Service by Alyssa Maxwell (review)

An enjoyable post-WWI mystery…

Although I had read a couple of titles in Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Age series, I had not read any of the books in her Lady and Lady’s Maid series.   So I was happy to receive an advance review copy of the latest title in the series, A Sinister Service, from the publisher. 

Since this is the sixth in the series, and I hadn’t read any of the earlier books, I was a little confused at first about who the characters were and the relationships between them.   I was especially puzzled by the relationships between Eva and the Renshaw siblings, which seemed a little unusual/too close for the post World War I setting.   But eventually I picked up more background, as well as remembering that this is called the “Lady and Lady’s Maid” series, and I realized that these relationships are a feature of the series, so to speak, rather than a bug. 

After I was able to settle in to the book, I enjoyed it.  The Renshaws want to buy a tea service for their grandparents’ anniversary, and so they visit the Crown Lily China company, known for making porcelain for royalty.    But unfortunately, along with a wide choice of tea services, Crown Lily China also offers up some murders.    A school chum of Fox Renshaw (the only male among the siblings) is implicated in the first murder, and the Renshaws feel compelled to investigate.  

What follows is a nice cozy mystery, with a bit of social commentary along the way.   There’s a bit of chauvinism, displayed both in the way women aren’t allowed to be designers at Crown Lily, and also in the casual and rather horrible way that the unmarried women painting the china are referred to as “surplus” women – “surplus” since so many British men were killed during the war.  There’s also some elite-ism, with Fox’s chum wanting to continue his studies at Eton, but being pulled out of school by his father to learn the china trade from the ground up.   Maxwell handles these subjects well, weaving them nicely into the storyline, letting us learn and think without sounding like a history book. 

Maxwell also provides a really nice in-depth look at the porcelain business.  Having worked in the past with some materials scientists who specialized in high-temperature ceramics, I was especially interested in the china-making process, but I also enjoyed the descriptions of the porcelain business itself.  Again the details are worked nicely into the plot.  

All-in-all, I enjoyed this book, and I plan on going back and looking for some of the earlier titles in the series.  I also recommend that others who haven’t read earlier titles may want to do so before reading this one, just to avoid the confusion I experienced early on.   I’m also going to be looking forward to the next book, to find out whether Julia’s baby is a boy or a girl!  

Please keep in mind that I try to fight “star-flation” a little bit, and I give very very few five-star ratings.  As a result, a four-star rating from me, is a solid recommendation for a book.   And that’s what A Sinister Service gets from me.  

My thanks again to Kensington and NetGalley for the advance review copy!

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