Review: A Nefarious Engagement: A Regency Cozy

A Nefarious Engagement: A Regency Cozy audiobook cover. A white silhouette of a woman in a long gown on a wine-coloured background decorated with gold filigree swirls and the shadow of a large castle or stately home. A Nefarious Engagement: A Regency Cozy by Lynn Messina.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 7 hrs 56 mins.

A Nefarious Engagement: A Regency Cozy, Beatrice Hyde-Clare Mysteries, Book 4 by Lynn Messina is the fourth book in a charming series which follows a determined bluestocking and her fastidious Duke as they find their way out of whatever tangle Bea has managed to get herself into. This time Beatrice's mysteries are far closer to home than any she has been forced to confront before.

Audible summary: "Having long abandoned any hope of making a match, 26-year-old Beatrice Hyde Clare finds herself a little overwhelmed by her engagement to the Duke of Kesgrave. Cloying society matrons clamor for her attention while her aunt reels off an endless list of servants she will have to oversee. Even the most intrepid female would quake at the prospect of managing eight footmen!

Fortunately, Bea knows the perfect distraction - an intriguing mystery - and pays a call on the Countess of Abercrombie, who had promised her that very thing only the evening before.

But her ladyship is reluctant to discuss the details with a newly minted duchess-to-be, and it dawns on Bea that the investigation cuts closer to home than she could have ever imagined because this time the murder victims are her own mother and father, who had died 20 years before in a seemingly straightforward boating accident.

Alas, nothing is straightforward, and as Bea digs into her past, she discovers with growing horror that she has no more idea how to be a daughter than she does a duchess.

©2019 Lynn Messina (P)2019 Lynn Messina."

As with the preceding books in the series, far too much of this book's opening is devoted to describing each of the earlier plots, which serves little purpose. Even for this book to be considered a standalone it need not go into such detail about Bea's previous mysteries. There is little motivation for anyone who has not read the other books to seek them out when each plot is recapped so thoroughly. Other cozy mystery series' often allude to earlier cases - perhaps even revealing key clues where pertinent or necessary to jog one's memory - but they do not summarise the entire investigation and its outcome. It detracts a little from the joy I feel at returning to these characters, and can make the first chapter or two rather slow going.

That aside, it is always a delight to meet once more with Bea and Kesgrave, for their relationship is full of wit and warmth. That is perhaps most evident in this outing, when the depth of the Duke's understanding of Beatrice's character is matched only by his unwavering affection for her. And she needs it, more than ever, as she faces the most personal murder mystery yet; the deaths of her parents. This book wove together many of the strands of the previous books, and Bea required all the skills she had mastered during her other investigations to get to the bottom of things. It also provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know Kesgrave better, and imagining him picking locks in grand houses as a curious, entitled little boy was adorable enough that I almost didn't mind him being named Damian.

There were moments in this book which were some of my favourites of the series so far. I very much enjoy the interactions between Bea and Kesgrave and they felt far more like a team in this book. Their relationship always makes me smile and his profound respect for Beatrice's bluestocking-eccentricities is as charming as the pride she has in his meticulous precision. Yet, even their most tender moments have any sickly-sweetness tempered by teasing and dry wit, and it is easy to imagine their love enduring throughout their lives together, which cannot often be said for Regency couplings.

Whilst we did not get to see as much of the Dowager as I would have liked, we were introduced to the delightfully inquisitive and opinionated Mrs Palmer. I can imagine her being a good - if challenging - friend to Bea, and that is something we have not really seen. The closest thing to a friend Bea really has is Kesgrave, and it would be interesting to see how she interacted with another bright, articulate woman who could keep up with her.

One of the most surprising aspects of this story was the way in which Messina did such a good job of redeeming Aunt Vera. Always neurotic and often unfeeling, Vera's treatment of her niece has always seemed rather thoughtless and resentful, so it was fascinating to glimpse another side to her - and her motivations - this time around. On the opposite scale, I was a little disappointed that the Earl's story ended the way it did, as I had hoped that his proclivities tended in a slightly different direction, which would have tied in nicely with an earlier moment in the book and would have aligned with the noticeably more progressive tone of this novel compared to the others.

On a very personal level I also appreciated the passing references to Portsmouth in this story, including the mention of HMS Royal George, one of whose guns is still on display a few miles from here in Southsea Castle, not far from other artifacts held within the archives of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which will always be very dear to me and is one of my supported charities.

The narrator, Jill Smith, embodies Miss Hyde-Clare very well, bringing her to life with a sprightly sincerity that makes Bea very appealing. The audiobook is still plagued by a sprinkling of mispronunciations ("whilst", "Hartlepool", "Berkley", "iron", "foie gras", "swathed", etc) but they do not detract from the enjoyment of the story and are far less obtrusive than in some of the previous books. Smith's narration is, overall, very engaging and full of character.

Both the author and the narrator have worked hard to polish and perfect each new release, and it shows in the blossoming quality of the books. As Beatrice and Kesgrave gain confidence in their footing with each other, so, it feels, has the team responsible for sharing them with us. I recommend this series to everyone who enjoys cosy mysteries or Regency romance, but I would advise starting with the first book in the series, A Brazen Curiosity, to avoid spoilers.

Here are the Beatrice Hyde-Clare Cozy Mystery Series books in order, and my previous reviews of each:

Book 1 - A Brazen Curiosity,
Book 2 - A Scandalous Deception,
Book 3 - An Infamous Betrayal,
Book 4 - A Nefarious Engagement.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.


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