Anastasia Hastings: Of Manners and Murder

Of Manners and Murder, the first in Anastasia Hastings’ new series starring an agony aunt heroine, is far from the author’s first book. Anastasia Hastings is one of many pseudonyms for Casey Daniels, a veteran author with dozens of works to her name. Of Manners and Murder reads like it was written by a practiced hand. It opens with Violet, our heroine, discovering that her aunt, Adelia, is the most famous agony aunt in London in 1885. Adelia writes as Miss Hermione and has managed, for years, to keep the truth from everyone, including the two girls living with her. Just as Violet is given this information, Adelia leaves on vacation – and puts Violet in charge of answering her mail.

An intelligent, independent person, Violet is more than up to the task. We see her answer a few letters, all with blunt honesty. They’re just the sort of things we ourselves might want to yell at someone who’s written into an advice column, particularly when the questions are silly. It’s nice, too, for other characters to respect this in the story. There are some who don’t like Violet’s acerbic answers, of course, but this just makes the differing opinions more convincing.

Violet herself grew up with a doting father, mostly abroad. She had a range of experiences because of it, and is believable as someone who can, and does, take care of themselves. So, when a letter comes from an Ivy Armstrong claiming that someone is trying to kill her – and providing a picture with circled portraits of her suspects – there’s no doubt that Violet is going to do something about it.

She sets off for Ivy’s sleepy little hamlet, determined to help and finds Ivy’s funeral being held the very same day that she arrives. Aghast that she was too late to help, Violet becomes determined to find justice for Ivy. And, indeed, all the people that Ivy fingered as her potential killers are highly suspicious. Ivy was a young lady recently married with a shadowed family history, and she invites the reader to get to know her even in death. The little town itself, though it’s unlikely to be revisited in later works, provides interesting suspects, background characters, and a nice and suitably claustrophobic setting for the action to come. As things progress, and Violet gets closer to proving that Ivy’s accident was a murder, someone is trying to kill Violet, too.

Of course, Of Manners and Murder also has a second heroine. For a few sections, Violet’s spacey half sister Sephora takes the narrative reins. Violet doesn’t care about fashions, adhering to proper etiquette, and finding a rich husband – but the story has Sephora to engage with all those things. Sephora has recently been seeing a suitor in secret, who she is positive is her true love. Almost all her sections revolve around this. At one point, she even writes to Violet, who she has no idea is Miss Hermione’s stand in. She receives a scathing answer.

Though Sephora’s sections were often funny, they didn’t have as much zip as Violet’s. I expect that she will grow as a character as the series does. The other sticking point, for me personally, was Violet’s love interest. He felt unneeded and, as he came rather late in the narrative, shoehorned in. It also didn’t seem like Violet needed a love interest – at least not this early on. Aside from this, though, Of Manners and Murder was a charming read with a solid plot at the center. Hasting’s characters felt like real people, very often people the reader might know. I look forward to seeing where the story goes next. — Margaret Agnew


Margaret Agnew is the Director of the Cahokia Public Library in Cahokia, Illinois.  A graduate of Ripon College and Indiana University, she has been a mystery fan and an avid reader from an early age.  She was also a reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine.