From Cut to the Quick:
Julian Kestrel had first appeared in London society a year or two ago, and hardly anything was known about him, though he was said to be related in some dubious way to a landed family in the north. If he had been anything but a dandy, such vagueness about his pedigree would have been fatal, but of course the most spectacular of the dandies were absolved from Society's usual inquisition into breeding and birth.
Really, I don't know why you'd need more than that. I mean, if I were you, I'd have already heaved myself out of my chair and headed out to grab a copy.
Buuut if you do need more: After rescuing young Hugh Fontclair from a tight spot in a gaming hell, Julian Kestrel is invited be the best man at Fontclair's wedding. Which is odd, because before the rescue, the two had never even exchanged pleasantries.
Julian accepts the invitation and, with Dipper (his ex-pickpocket valet, because OF COURSE his valet is an ex-pickpocket) in tow, he wanders down to stay at Bellegarde, where he discovers that the pre-wedding atmosphere is anything but comfortable. The two families about to be united by holy matrimony and wedded bliss hate each other so very much that they find it difficult to even spend time in the same room.
So it almost isn't even that surprising when a murder occurs.
Cut to the Quick is the first book in the Julian Kestrel series -- a series that I've been meaning to read forever and ever, but that I kept putting off because I was pretty sure I'd fall in love and then be bereft when I finished the last of the four. (The author died in 1998.)
So, you know. I'd been avoiding future literary misery.
But, you know. I had to put an end to my years of procrastination and start myself down the road to depression SOMETIME.
After reading Book One, I'm pretty durned sure that I'm going to be seriously depressed when I'm done. Because, wow. Love Julian Kestrel. Love love love.
Like Peter Wimsey, people tend to underestimate him because he's a dandy and because he's comfortable letting people underestimate him. But he's just wonderful in every way, as 11-year-old Philippa quickly learns:
"If everyone who died with unpunished sins on his conscience came back as a ghost, the living would be crowded out of ever house in England."
"You're cynical. I thought you would be. Can you sneer?"
"With terrifying effect."
"Oh, do it, please! I want to see it!"
"I'm afraid you're much too young to withstand it. I should be accused of stunting your growth--perhaps ever sending you into a decline."
"I wouldn't go into a decline. I'm robust. My governess says so. But, come along, I mustn't make you late to dinner."
Sadly, she didn't end up appearing in much of the book, but I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it to those of you who like the Regency era, historical mysteries, Dorothy Sayers, Georgette Heyer, etc., etc., etc. It's got great characters, setting, dialogue, clothing descriptions, and it's a really decent whodunnit. While I correctly identified the murderer very early on, I had no idea what the motive was, and there were a million-and-six very reasonable red herrings.
In a nutshell: HOO-FREAKING-RAY, this book is made of awesome!
Book source: ILL, because my local library doesn't have this series, GRRR!