Erica Ruth Neubauer’s debut novel, Murder at the Mena House, arrived on the scene at possibly the worst moment – late March 2020, as the world was just coming to terms with the pandemic that was before us. Despite this rocky origin, Murder at the Mena House managed to grab readers’ attention and would go on to amass a legion of fans and several award nominations. Now Neubauer returns with a second Jane Wunderly mystery – Murder at Wedgefield Manor.
Before launching her writing career, Erica Ruth Neubauer spent many years reviewing crime fiction for various publications. With that experience comes a certain knowledge of the genre and foresight into the tropes that really hook readers. So after launching her historical series with an Egyptian archeological escapade, Murder at Wedgefield Manor riffs off another extremely popular crime fiction trope – unexplained death at a grandiose and secluded country residence. In this case, Wedgefield Manor, home to the Hughes Family (about whom readers learned a bit in the debut novel.)
Devotees of the mystery genre have already become very attached to Jane Wunderly, so it is no surprise when she finds herself in the middle of another murder investigation where her meddling may prove more dangerous than she expects. Readers of the first novel in the series will be happy to know that fan favorites Aunt Millie – with whom Jane has been traveling – and Mr. Redvers – her most perplexing paramour – both appear in this impressive sequel that works equally well as a stand-alone mystery.
While Neubauer’s familiarity with the genre does allow her to capitalize on the popular tropes, it also means that she can skillfully avoid clichés and predictable developments during the investigation. Here, a military veteran dies in a car crash that appears to have been intentionally caused, but was Simon Marshall the intended victim? A plethora of suspects – and potential targets – populate the manor house, including family members, servants, and unexpected visitors.
In Murder at Wedgefield Manor, Jane continues her trajectory as a very modern woman for the 1920’s. Erica Ruth Neubauer does a splendid job of balancing the reader’s expectations of women during this period with believable examples of how these female citizens pushed back against the artificial constraints placed upon them. This most obviously manifests itself in this novel with Jane Wunderly’s flying lessons, which not only supply some very picturesque interludes within the story, but also highlight Jane as a woman never to be underestimated. There are some other more subtle expressions of this theme in both novels which is refreshing and enlightening.
It wouldn’t be a successful mystery if there wasn’t a satisfying conclusion, so rest assured that answers are provided. Crime fiction aficionados are likely to hone in on some key clues, but the inclusion of many clever red herrings provide enough distractions so readers enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Speaking of destinations, it sounds like Jane and Mr. Redvers will be back in America for book three in this series. Things are heating up in the romance department, but surely there will be another dead body designed to complicate matters – to the delight of readers everywhere.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.