Dinner Most Deadly is the fourth book in my series of Regency-set mysteries featuring Bow Street Runner John Pickett, and in some ways it’s the riskiest. I call it my Empire Strikes Back book, because I still remember how appalled we all were when that movie came out in 1980, and the ending left us hanging: Han Solo frozen in carbonite? Luke’s dead (or so we thought) father, the Jedi hero, is Darth Vader??? And we were going to have to wait three years to find out what happened next?
In the case of Dinner Most Deadly, the cliffhanger involves the Scottish marriage by declaration which was accidentally contracted by John Pickett and Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, in Family Plot. When Julia returns from Scotland restless and out of sorts, her friend Lady Dunnington decides what Julia needs is a lover—and arranges a dinner party with half a dozen male guests from whom Julia may take her pick. But one of the men is murdered, and when John Pickett is summoned from Bow Street, he must not only find the killer, but break the news of their “marriage” to Julia. As with the other books, the mystery is solved, but the romance is more unresolved than ever as the couple must go about seeking an annulment—a process far messier than most romance novels lead readers to believe.
I’ll admit, I was more than a bit nervous about how readers would react. I had braced myself for a big outcry against “sequel-bait,” but to my relief, it hasn’t happened. I hope that’s because readers understand that, because of the enormous social gulf between them, Julia’s mind is not going to leap immediately to marriage. She is, however, appalled at what the annulment process is going to demand of poor John: the only grounds available to them are inability to consummate, and since she was married for six years—during which any such problem would certainly have been addressed—that leaves him to take the fall. She’s never known a man who loved her enough to sacrifice for her, and although she’s deeply moved by his willingness to do so, she doesn’t quite know how to respond. It’s going to take something drastic to force her to confront her own feelings—and that something comes up in the next book, Too Hot to Handel.
Thankfully, readers won’t have to wait three years to find out what happens next, but only about six months: my publisher has scheduled Too Hot to Handel for March 2016.
If you’re new to the series but want to give it a try, I would strongly suggest beginning with In Milady’s Chamber, the first in the series, to follow the progression of the romance as it develops. In order, the books are: (1) In Milady’s Chamber; (2) A Dead Bore; (3) Family Plot; (4) Dinner Most Deadly; and (5) Too Hot to Handel. There’s also a prequel novella, Pickpocket’s Apprentice, which traces John Pickett’s rise from 14-year-old pickpocket to nineteen-year-old Bow Street Runner.
Giveaway: Sheri will award a hardcover, dust jacketed copy of Dinner Most Deadly ($25.95 retail) to one lucky commenter.
About Dinner Most Deadly
When Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, returns from her sojourn in Scotland restless and out of sorts, her friend Emily, Lady Dunnington, decides what Julia needs is a lover. Lady Dunnington plans a select dinner party with half a dozen male guests from whom Julia may choose a paramour. Emily also invites a potential lover for herself: Sir Reginald Montague, a man whose urbane manner and dangerous good looks hide a host of unsavory secrets.
Alas, Emily’s little dinner is a disaster from the outset. Every gentleman at the table bears some unspoken grudge against Sir Reginald, and then dinner is interrupted by Emily’s estranged husband. He and his lady have a heated discussion which ends with Lord Dunnington’s vowing to put a stop to his wife’s pursuit of Sir Reginald “no matter what it takes.” But the coup de grâce comes at the end of the evening, when Sir Reginald is shot dead.
Bow Street Runner John Pickett is summoned to Emily’s house, where he is taken aback to find Julia. For in addition to investigating the case, he is faced with the awkward task of informing her that their masquerade as a married couple in Scotland (Family Plot) has resulted in their being legally wed. Beset by distractions—not the least of which are the humiliating annulment process and the flattering attentions of Lady Dunnington’s pretty young housemaid—Pickett must find the killer of a man whom everyone has reason to want dead.
For the first time in the interview, the solicitor’s professional demeanor faltered. “The only possibility that remains is, er, that is, it involves consummation of the union.”
“But you just said a lack of consummation did not constitute grounds,” protested Lady Fieldhurst.
“No, but if either party should be unable to—that is, to be incapable of—” He took a deep breath and started over. “Your ladyship, I must remind you that you and the late Lord Fieldhurst were married for six years. If, during that time, it had come to light that you were—were incapable of participating in the act that might have given your husband the heir he desired so desperately, he would surely have sought such an annulment for himself years ago.” He turned to Pickett. “Such being the case, that only leaves . . .”
As the solicitor’s implication dawned, Pickett flushed a deep red.
Lady Fieldhurst was equally embarrassed, but considerably more vocal. “You cannot ask Mr. Pickett to—to—” Words failed her. She broke off and tried again. “Mr. Pickett may not be married, but I daresay there is a female somewhere who could destroy such a claim simply by coming forward and—and—”
“As a matter of fact,” Pickett said miserably, “there isn’t.”
“There isn’t?” echoed Lady Fieldhurst.
Pickett shook his head and prayed for the floor to open up and swallow him.
“There isn’t,” she murmured, regarding him with new eyes.
“But,” he added hastily, “that isn’t to say I couldn’t—that is, I—I have no reason to suppose that—that all my parts are not—not in good working order.”
“Oh, my.” She snatched up one of the solicitor’s legal papers and began fanning herself with it. “Oh, my.”
About the Author
At the age of sixteen, Sheri Cobb South discovered Georgette Heyer, and came to the startling realization that she had been born into the wrong century. Although she doubtless would have been a chambermaid had she actually lived in Regency England, that didn’t stop her from fantasizing about waltzing the night away in the arms of a handsome, wealthy, and titled gentleman.
Since Georgette Heyer was dead and could not write any more Regencies, Ms. South came to the conclusion she would simply have to do it herself. In addition to her popular series of Regency mysteries featuring idealistic young Bow Street Runner John Pickett (described by All About Romance as “a little young, but wholly delectable”), she is the award-winning author of several Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife.
A native and long-time resident of Alabama, Ms. South recently moved to Loveland, Colorado, where she has a stunning view of Long’s Peak from her office window.