Title: A Dreadful Splendor
Author: B. R. Myers
Published: August 23rd, 2022 (William Morrow)
Synopsis: In Victorian London, Genevieve Timmons poses as a spiritualist to swindle wealthy mourners – until one misstep lands her in a jail cell awaiting the noose. Then a stranger arrives to make her a peculiar offer. The Lord he serves, Mr. Pemberton, has been inconsolable since the tragic death of his beautiful bride-to-be. If Genevieve can perform a séance persuasive enough to bring the young Lord peace, she will win her freedom.
Soothing a grieving nobleman should be easy for someone of Genevieve’s skill, but when she arrives at the grand Somerset Park estate, Mr. Pemberton is not the heartbroken lover she expected. The surly – yet exceedingly handsome – gentleman is certain that his fiancée was murdered, even though there is no evidence. Only a confession can bring justice now, and Mr. Pemberton decides Genevieve will help him get it. With his knowledge of the household and her talent for illusion, they can stage a haunting so convincing it will coax the killer into the light. However, when frightful incidents befall the manor, Genevieve realizes her tricks aren’t required after all. She may be a fake, but Somerset’s ghost could be all too real…
Thank you to the publisher, Harper Collins Canada, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Genevieve Timmons is a fake spiritualist who pretends to be able to contact the spirits of the dead in order to trick wealthy mourners, but when she slips up, she lands in jail, almost certainly headed for the gallows. A stranger approaches her with an offer: conduct a fake seance to convince his employer, an earl, that the spirit of bride-to-be is at peace after her tragic suicide and he will get her out of the sticky situation she is in. This is exactly the kind of task Genevieve is good at, and she expects it will be easy enough, but the earl, Mr Pemberton has a completely different idea in mind. Certain that his fiancee was actually murdered, he decides that Genevieve’s fake seance is going to help him get some answers at long last by scaring a confession out of the guilty party. But even as they make their preparations to stage a haunting and unveil a killer, Genevieve begins to realize that Somerset Park has many secrets and at the end of the day, her tricks may not be necessary, for a real ghost may be lurking in their midst after all.
Another late addition to my 2022 TBR, and it was such an entertaining read! A Dreadful Splendor was a mystery novel with a historical setting and more than a few spooky vibes. It was such a riveting read and there were so many red herrings that it kept me guessing right until the end. The story was interspersed with entries from the diary of Lady Audra, Mr Pemberton’s bride-to-be, which made things even more fascinating as it was almost like a parallel timeline, watching Audra’s story unfold as more and more facts about her life, the family and the manor were revealed. The author has done a brilliant job writing this mystery, especially with the number of characters involved, all of whom start to appear suspect as Genevieve finds out they each had motive to get rid of Audra. There are many side stories going on and it was interesting trying to figure out which of them were really relevant to the mystery. This tone of the writing felt very YA-like which, while not a bad thing, was unexpected since this was not a YA novel.
Genevieve was a great main character. The story is narrated entirely from her perspective, except for the diary entries, and as a scam artist, she was a morally gray character which made it hard to decide whether to hope she succeeds or not. But as her backstory is revealed, she turns out to be a rather sympathetic figure and I was definitely rooting for her to solve the mystery and win her freedom by the end. There was some romance in this but it didn’t take over the story which I appreciated as this particular arc was rather predictable.
Despite the intriguing backdrop for this mystery, I didn’t keep my hopes too high for the reveal, as I’ve read period mysteries before and they more or less follow a pattern. This one however, took a completely unexpected turn and just when the pieces looked like they were about to come together in the last 10-15% of the book, twists just kept coming out of the blue – and it was so much fun to read! I would definitely recommend this book for mystery fans, it would be such a perfect read around Halloween!
A Dreadful Splendor releases on August 30th, 2022.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!