Short Story Review: Miss Unwin’s Mistake by HRF Keating

I rather liked the opening line of this short story:

Miss Harriet Unwin, governess, did not make mistakes.

Indeed it tells us all we need to know about the personality of the central character.

It is Miss Unwin’s last day as governess to Maria, daughter of Mr Dorset Merrimen, a wealthy member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers.  The following day it is her charge’s sixteenth birthday, and Maria, who is quite fond of her governess, insists she attends.  Also amongst the assembled guests are Mr Merrimen’s nephews who will inherit his vast wealth when he dies.  One is tall and charming; Miss Unwin thinks he is the most respectable of the two.  The other is shorter and possessed a moody temperament.  Miss Unwin certainly thinks more highly of one than the other.

After the party, Miss Unwin discusses the evening with Maria, who whilst dressing for bed asks her former governesss if she can go and find a particular book for her to read.

When she gets downstairs, she can hear Mr Merrimen arguing with his nephews over money before threatening to remove both of them from his will.  One of the nephew’s leave, but Miss Unwin can only make a logical guess at which one, and soon after Mr Merrimen is found dead.  But which nephew is responsible?  Only Miss Unwin’s evidence can solve the case but has she got it right?

Miss Unwin’s Mistake is pleasant, quick read, although the ending isn’t hard to guess.  However, that isn’t what makes it charming; rather it is the setting, description and wording.

This short story was found in The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives, ed. Mike Ashley.

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