Discover → Historical Mysteries

An Unfortunate End

By Lisa Zumpano

Must read 🏆

An Unfortunate End is an incredibly addictive, fast-paced historical cozy mystery.

Synopsis

A poisoned aristocrat. A fledgling reporter. A scandal to die for.

New York City, 1919. Lillie Mead mourns the love she lost in the war. But when a wealthy British friend offers her a reporting job across the pond, she hopes accepting will help her rebuild her life. She barely has time to unpack before she’s assigned the scoop of a poisoned socialite’s death…

As the clues take a turn for the scandalous, Lillie unearths shocking skeletons in the victim’s closet. But she never expected the threads of the beloved woman’s life to weave with hers. Can Lillie expose the truth before her own death makes the front page?

An Unfortunate End is the first book in the Lillie Mead Historical Mystery Series. If you like captivating settings, cozy whodunits, and vivid glimpses into the past, then you’ll love Lisa Zumpano’s charming novel.

Lillie Mead is a husk of her former self as she mourns the loss of her beloved in the war. She stays with her married sister and struggles to carry on with her life. A proposal, from a wealthy British friend, to investigate and report the possible murder of a British aristocrat gives her a glimmer of hope – of rebuilding her life. What initially transpires as an open-and-shut case soon spirals into something more sinister. Can Lillie expose the truth before she follows the deceased aristocrat’s way? Read An Unfortunate End by Lisa Zumpano to find out.  


An Unfortunate End is an incredibly addictive, fast-paced historical cozy mystery. To describe it as charming is merely touching the tip of the iceberg. Zumpano treats her readers to fabulous glimpses into the life of past-century New York and England (Oxfordshire and London, to be exact). Her vividly descriptive writing transported me to the ostentatious parties in the elegantly decorated ballrooms as well as to the stately manors situated in the quiet countryside.


The murder mystery was a tough nut to crack and was brilliantly executed. The identity of the killer was indeed an unexpected revelation and so was the murder weapon. Hats off to Lillie Mead and her accomplices for deducing the mystery. Although there are tinges of romance in the novel, they don’t dampen its thrilling pace by any means. Rather they provide welcome relief to our protagonist from a grueling day at work. 


Lisa Zumpano has crafted believable characters from Lillie (our protagonist) to Rumple, the butler. Lillie’s transformation from a spiritless person to an inspired woman determined to apprehend the killer was well-written. The supporting characters manifest themselves in the form of a motley crew of friends who help Lillie in every way possible to crack the case.


"ARTHUR STUART HADN’T WANTED to be a footman for a number of reasons."


With an attention-grabbing opening line, An Unfortunate End starts with a bang and rapidly transforms from a cozy mystery to a danger-riddled, grab-the-edge-of-the-seat thriller culminating into a satisfying denouément with all the loose ends neatly tied up. An Unfortunate End is a stellar beginning to the Lillie Mead Historical Mystery Series. Highly recommended. Mystery and thriller fans - don’t miss it.

Reviewed by

I am a twenty-something avid reader. Be it work or leisure, you will always find my nose buried in books. I like the genres mystery/thriller/suspense, romance, fantasy, contemporary and historical fiction, but what I am looking for IS a good story. You can find me at Debjani's Thoughts (book blog).

Synopsis

A poisoned aristocrat. A fledgling reporter. A scandal to die for.

New York City, 1919. Lillie Mead mourns the love she lost in the war. But when a wealthy British friend offers her a reporting job across the pond, she hopes accepting will help her rebuild her life. She barely has time to unpack before she’s assigned the scoop of a poisoned socialite’s death…

As the clues take a turn for the scandalous, Lillie unearths shocking skeletons in the victim’s closet. But she never expected the threads of the beloved woman’s life to weave with hers. Can Lillie expose the truth before her own death makes the front page?

An Unfortunate End is the first book in the Lillie Mead Historical Mystery Series. If you like captivating settings, cozy whodunits, and vivid glimpses into the past, then you’ll love Lisa Zumpano’s charming novel.

Prologue


July 1919 Oxfordshire, England

ARTHUR STUART HADN’T WANTED to be a footman for a number of reasons. The first reason was that he couldn’t stand the livery. The starched shirts and woollen trousers were itchy and he had sensitive skin. The spit-polished shoes he was required to wear were narrow and stiff. Arthur had the misfortune of having two wide, block-like feet, like his grandmother. They were terribly un-English feet, and more suited to a German or a Russian than to a young man from Oxfordshire.

The second reason was that Arthur’s brother, Harold, had been a footman before the war and hadn’t returned to his post as third footman when it ended. It wasn’t that he hadn’t wanted to return—he just never got the chance. Being a footman reminded Arthur of what those last, wasted years of his brother’s life must have been like. Harold had wanted to be a farmer—a sheep farmer, to be exact. But a farmer needs capital and their family had none to get him started. So instead of tending a herd, he had gone into waiting for a historied and moneyed family, who had been unappreciative and ignorant of how fine a lad he was. Arthur could imagine how defeated Harold must have felt every time a bell was rung to summon him. Day after day, night after night—the drudgery of it all. A life in service was as far away from the pastoral idyll as one could possibly get.

As far as footmen went, Arthur wasn’t sure he was very well suited to the large and imposing house he resided in now. He hadn’t had much experience, and, if truth be told, he was more interested in trying his hand as a salesman in his friend’s wool shop on Broad Street instead. As with his brother, service wasn’t Arthur’s particular calling. When he had said as much to his mother, she had replied, “Hush now, lad. You are as good as anyone else they might have gotten, and a great deal smarter.” She had tapped the end of his nose, the way she always did when she was finished speaking her mind, and dismissed him.Nobody cares if a footman is smart or not, he thought. In fact, it was an advantage to be rather dimwitted—that way, the repeti- tion of it all was less likely to affect one’s mental state.

Now, two months after he had started, he stood at the threshold of the drawing room and great hall and thought about how much he wished he had stood his ground and told his family he was taking that job in the wool shop. The late afternoon heat was stifling. A whisper of a breeze would have been a welcome relief, but there was none forthcoming. Outside, the usually lush gardens were starting to wilt. In the fields to the north, sheep grazed lazily under mammoth oak trees, their canopies a refuge from the glaring sun. It was time for a good summer rain.

Arthur watched the father and son of the house pace back and forth in the drawing room. Lord Swindon and Edgar Swindon—intermittently alternating between sitting and standing as though no spot were restful. The drapes were drawn, shutting out the afternoon light. A housekeeper brought in pots of tea and laid sandwiches and sweets, hoping to tempt the men to eat. Arthur knew she wanted to take their minds off what was going on upstairs. But neither had an appetite, and soon flies began to buzz around the food. An attendant maid swatted at them.

The minutes ticked by painfully slowly, turning into hours. Arthur shuffled from one foot to the other, hoping his discom- fort wouldn’t be noticed. There was nothing to do but wait, and nothing to alleviate the waiting. Servants came and went quietly. Hushed whispers in the hallways were the only sounds, save for the ticking of the clock. An ebony Labrador retriever wandered in and out of the room from time to time, exhausted from the heat. He eventually flopped down on the stone hearth, clearly hoping the cool surface would give him some reprieve.

Arthur heard a creak on the landing and turned to see a regretful man with a stethoscope around his neck standing in the foyer, a black, weathered medical bag in his hand. Arthur wondered fleetingly how he had gotten down the stairs without him noticing. The doctor was certainly light on his feet. The men in the drawing room saw Arthur’s head turn and looked up at him, as if he was about to tell them the earth-shattering news himself. But Arthur nodded and stepped back with a sweeping gesture of his hand, signalling to the men that the doctor had returned from upstairs. They quickly made their way into the foyer. Arthur settled back into his post, chin slightly raised and eyes set above the men’s heads, trying to make himself invisible.

“I’m afraid I have done all I can,” the doctor began quietly, shaking his head. “I haven’t seen a case like this in all my time in medicine. She is declining at a rapid rate and the interven- tions I have employed have been futile. If it is Spanish flu, it is a strain I have never seen before. I dare say it may be something completely different. If you would allow me, sirs, I have a theory—but I stress that it is only a theory at this point. The symptoms she is showing are consistent with poisoning.” He paused, clearly uncomfortable. “She is bleeding from within, and blood is now showing up in her vomit and stool. She has open sores on her back and arms that are getting worse, and she is beginning to lose her hair. I am going back to the hospital for medication to help with her comfort level and will be back within the hour. It is time to pray, gentlemen. Only God can save her now.”

Both men stood speechless.

With a final apology, the doctor turned and left them. Arthur barely got to the door in time to open it for him. Mr. Groves certainly picked a fine day to go into town, Arthur thought resentfully. Their mistress was obviously dying and he had been left to shoulder the grief, while the butler strolled the village markets looking for God knows what.

The two men of the house looked at one another as Arthur closed the door after the doctor. Tears welled in the older man’s eyes. The younger one walked forward to him and they hugged. Arthur knew they now understood their loss was imminent. The woman they loved, mother and wife, was about to be gone forever. If it really were poisoning, as the doctor suspected, this was more sinister than Arthur could have ever imagined.

He wished he were sorting bolts of the finest tartan over on Broad Street. This was the last time he would ever listen to his mother.

About the author

Lisa is the author of various historical mystery novels set in the 1920s​. She is presently working on two series—the Lillie Mead Historical Mystery Series and a spin-off spy series that takes place during the First World War. She holds a Masters degree in History. view profile

Published on June 03, 2019

Published by

60000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Mysteries

Reviewed by

Enjoyed this review?

Get early access to fresh indie books and help decide on the bestselling stories of tomorrow. Create your free account today.

or

Or sign up with an email address

Create your account

Or sign up with your social account