In A Veil Removed (She Writes Press), the fourth book in Michelle Cox’s Henrietta and Inspector Howard series, the untimely death of Clive’s father and the abrupt end to Henrietta’s sister’s unseemly romance drag the just-married couple into the underside of 1930s Chicago. Established family business ties reveal their nefarious sides and the loyalty of trusted servants and old friends comes into question.
From their honeymoon, Henrietta and Clive rush back home to Highbury for his father’s funeral and uncover clues that suggest the death was no accident. As Clive attempts to untangle his father’s secretive business relationships in preparation for taking over the family business far earlier than he anticipated, he realizes that the consequences of investigating these clues could be deadly. Nonetheless, he courageously follows his natural investigative instincts to find a possible killer, even as his newly widowed mother asserts there was no murder. She believes Clive’s own grief is distorting his mental equilibrium.
As newlywed Henrietta accommodates a grieving mother-in-law who appears reluctant to share her son with his bride, she must also help her own family. Her homely younger sister Elsie has just ended a love affair that has made her the subject of gossip and public conjecture. Without looking back Henrietta pushes Elsie to consider an education at the nearby Mundelein College, a women’s college set in art-deco buildings on the edge of Lake Michigan. The prospect thrills Elsie but not her mother. To even get accepted she must first beef up her math skills and fend off scummy suitors who are chasing her for her money. Elsie draws solace from the refreshingly open-minded nuns who run the school but finds herself most strongly drawn to the German custodian who is teaching himself English. While he causes Elsie to see herself in a new light he also seems to be hiding some dark secrets that Elsie must uncover about his past life.
A prescient early chapter written from the point of view of Clive’s father launches the story’s strongly-paced plot. The remaining chapters alternate between the third-person points-of-view of Henrietta, Clive and Elsie. Characters are well defined. Clive is sexy, courageous and a born investigator. The beautiful Henrietta is not only the highly intelligent other half of their investigative team but also a playful sexual partner who regularly lures her besotted husband into steamy sex scenes that add fresh excitement to the story. What the homely yet earnest Elsie lacks in self-esteem she makes up for in her generous world view and her huge respect for Henrietta. Cox draws textured visuals of a 1930s Chicago mansion replete with cherrywood drink carts, embroidered goose down pillows, brand new wireless radios, Worth gowns, Rothschild coats, and the music of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. It puts us back in the romantically turbulent 1930s Chicago.
The ending provides a highly satisfying twist as Clive and Henrietta conclude their murder investigation and as Elsie must consider and resolve her romantic future. Overall this engaging story charms us with modern-minded characters enmeshed in a 1930s world full of social expectations, for women most of all. But even the men struggle to fill super-human roles as society expects them to keep their emotions in check and provide for their women. These characters—the highly intelligent and sensitive Henrietta, the always devoted Clive and the blossoming young Elsie—intrigue us as they push those expectations and assumptions in every positive way they can.
A Veil Removed is now available.
About Michelle Cox
Michelle Cox is the author of the multiple award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series as well as “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a weekly blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. She suspects she may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, has resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting herself back there. Coincidentally, her books have been praised by Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and many others, so she might be on to something. Unbeknownst to most, Michelle hoards board games she doesn’t have time to play and is, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. Also marmalade.