Back with Nell Bray, the suffragette who continues to be one of my favourite sleuths. It is still 1909 (as it was during Sister Beneath the Sheet – see also Dead Man Riding) and Nell is in London, having recently completed her second prison term that year for "suffragetting" – taking Direct Action against the all-male government elected by an all-male franchise.
At a meeting of the "suffrage prisoners support committee" she is collared by Bernard Shaw and talked into sticking close to and protecting Lady Penwarden, whom Shaw believes to be in danger from her husband, Lord Penwarden.
What is his interest? Bella – Isabella Flanagan, Lady Penwarden's own name, the name she performs under – is the leading lady in Shaw's new play, Cinderella, which takes up the story of Cinderella five years after her fairy-tale marriage to Prince Charming, by which time she has had more than enough of him and is desperate for a divorce. It was written specially for her, because she is in that same position, desperate for a divorce from Lord Penwarden, but owing to the archaic divorce laws quite unable to obtain one. This is airing the aristocracy's dirty linen in public, which is just up Shaw's street. It also brings him once again into a head-on collision with the Lord Chamberlain and the theatrical performace licensing laws, a game Shaw always enjoys.
Lord Penwarden is, predictably, not amused.
I am not going to spoil it by telling you what happens, but I must say that having Shaw as a character in a story is an ambitious undertaking. A less gifted author might have put words in his mouth that would have him rising up out of his grave and coming to haunt her. Gillian Linscott, though, does him – and us – proud. He could – he would, I am sure – have said almost exactly what she has him say were he to find himself in the situations she places him in. (Ah, the god-like powers an author has!)
I love all these books, but for a Shaw fan (and sometime Shaw-scholar) like myself this was a special treat.