The Right Sort of Man, by Allison Montclair

29 Jul
Cover for THE RIGHT SORT OF MAN; watercolor-type illustration; silhouette of a woman wearing a two-piece suit, period appropriate for 1940s, skirt below the knees. Background is a slightly blurry five-stories building

Spurred by this review by the lovely Kay, I finally read my ARC of this novel, the first title in the Sparks and Bainbridge series.

Reader beware: loss, trauma, mental health issues, alcoholism (mostly off page), and more threat of violence than actual violence. One of the protagonists is having an affair with a married man.

The Right Sort of Man, by Allison Montclair

This novel is a cozy mystery, a story about friendship and found family, and a ballad (almost an elegy) about living on after a loss. It’s London, summer of 1946. The war is over, but hundreds of thousands of British soldiers are dead, as are tens of thousands of civilians. The Blitz obliterated dozens of thousands of buildings and damaged over ten times as many.

Unlike the US, resources were are scarce in Britain, and will be for over a dozen years longer; an entire generation will grow up on ration books for everything from bread to clothing.

The novel starts from the point of view of one Tilly La Salle, looking for a respectable relationship in a recently established business in Mayfair, as posh then as ever–yes, even with all the rubble. In short order we are introduced to our heroines, and soon after, we are off to the races.


In a London slowly recovering from World War II, two very different women join forces to launch a business venture in the heart of Mayfair—The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Miss Iris Sparks, quick-witted and impulsive, and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, practical and widowed with a young son, are determined to achieve some independence and do some good in a rapidly changing world.

But their promising start is threatened when their newest client is found murdered and the man arrested for the crime is the prospective husband they matched her with. While the police are convinced they have their man, Miss Sparks and Mrs. Bainbridge are not. To clear his name—and to rescue their fledgling operation’s reputation—Sparks and Bainbridge decide to investigate on their own. Little do they know that this will put their very lives at risk.

As we are introduced to Gwen and Iris, they work off each other so seamlessly, quip and wisecrack with such ease and speed, it’s easy to assume they’ve been friends for years. But the illusion is soon broken.

Iris, known to friend and foe equally as Sparks, and Gwen, the very proper widowed Mrs Brainbridge, had only known each other a matter of weeks before pooling their resources to start their marriage bureau–which has been in operation a mere three months.

It’s almost a running joke that Iris can’t talk about what she did during the war years, but through her good offices The Right Sort has useful contacts in all sorts of interesting places. As for Gwen…well, Gwen’s instincts about people are positively uncanny.

These two women are indeed kindred spirits, but each holds secrets–some even from themselves. And because they don’t really know that much about each other’s past, even as they know each other, sometimes they’ll cross a line inadvertently. So sometimes they talk, touch a nerve and have to back off to less tender territory, and sometimes they just weave in and out from the personal/difficult/delicate, back to ‘the case’.

Their voices are very distinctive, both with each other and in their internal dialogue.

And both of them broke my heart in different ways.

Iris, with her regrets and her guilt, working desperately to hope, struggling to disentangle herself from a past that won’t quite let her go. Gwen, who loved so completely the loss almost broke her, clawing her way back to autonomy and normalcy.

We learn soon that Gwen and her young son Ronnie live with her late husband’s parents; her mother-in-law drinks, and is coldly cruel, while her father-in-law is somewhere in Africa at the moment. Eventually, we also learn that Gwen’s living arrangements are not by choice, but her only legal recourse to participate in her son’s life.

Because Gwen had a mental breakdown upon receiving news of her husband’s death, and was committed to a sanitarium for several months. During which time, her in-laws were granted legal custody of Ronnie and, basically, control of the money left to Gwen by her husband.

Among other things, Gwen is forced to see a psychiatrist, Dr Milford–whom I was predisposed to despise (see footnote 1). I was deeply relieved to find out that he’s on Gwen’s side, even if it’s her in-laws footing the bill.

I was also grateful to see mental health treated with respect, while hewing to the notions of the time.

For her part, Iris is haunted by memories of her war service, both the comrades she lost and the things she did in the name of her country. Some of this we learn during the course of this book, but a lot more is hinted at (hopefully to be revealed later on).

As the novel starts, Iris is having an affair with a married man; not so much because she loves him, but because she’s unapologetically sexual, and hey, it’s better than drinking as a coping mechanism. Or at least, slightly less self-destructive (see footnote 2).

And then, wouldn’t you know it, the man she actually loves, and who is engaged to someone else, walks into the office, and back into her life.

And through this all, Gwen and Iris work to save an innocent man, incidentally also helping Scotland Yard in a different matter.

Originally, this novel was marketed as a debut, but I’ve since learned that it’s only a debut under this pseudonym, which makes a lot of sense, because the writing is very polished and, well, mature, throughout (see footnote 3). The characterizations are very deft, down to some characters who are barely on the page.

The language is delicious:

“There were two desks in front of her on either side of a single window. They looked like they themselves had served during the war, perhaps seeing combat in some skirmish against German furniture, and now sat battered but unbowed, the one on the left jammed against the wall for partial support, a book stuffed under one leg which was noticeably shorter than the others….There was an ancient filing cabinet in the corner that could have told tales from previous wars to the two desks.” (kindle location 72)

The descriptions are generally economic, while conveying so much about character. For example:

“Fate lurched through the door in the form of a corpulent man in his early forties, his hand dabbing at his face with a handkerchief that had been in use far too long without laundering.” (kindle location 1140)

The plotting is very good, with enough twists and well-executed turns to please any mystery reader. There’s enough historical detail to anchor the story seamlessly to time and place, and the cast of supporting characters is great, from Sally (the hulking “collections” man who’s sweeter than a teddy bear), down to six year old Ronnie, who is a child being a child, and the farthest thing from a plot moppet possible.

I started this book late in the evening on a weekday, and read it in one go, it’s that good; and the writing is so good, that I had to force myself not to start the next book in the series then and there.

The Right Sort of Man gets a 9.50 out of 10, and I’m reading A Royal Affair over the weekend, come what may.

* * * *

1 It’s rarely a good match when someone else does the choosing of a mental health professional.

2 Generally, I have issues with characters having affairs with people they know are married (being the one cheated on will do that to you). If both of the people married are okay with it (open marriage/polyamory/menage/what have you), then by all means, have at it. Cheating is another thing entirely.

3 Allison Montclair is a nom de plume for Alan Gordon, who also writes the Fools’ Guild Mysteries, set in the early 1600s.

10 Responses to “The Right Sort of Man, by Allison Montclair”

  1. Lori 29/07/2022 at 2:39 PM #

    Oh… Carolyn was waxing poetic about this book also. I think I have my weekend read decided. Thank you!

    • azteclady 29/07/2022 at 3:24 PM #

      I really, really liked it. There are some heavy themes (Gwen’s grief, and her love for her late husband, her fight for her sanity and her son; Iris’s guilt and self-destructive impulses), but I found them all treated with sensitivity and care.

      I hope you like it!

  2. Miss Bates 29/07/2022 at 4:57 PM #

    I’m soooo glad you enjoyed it! The themes, mysteries, and characterizations you deftly pointed out will be developped in the next three books, with a “reckoning and/or re-appearance” of book 1 “stuff” in book 4. Can’t WAIT to hear what you’ll think of of the rest of the series!!! (And thank you for the shout-out to MissB. 🙂 )

    • azteclady 29/07/2022 at 5:29 PM #

      ::whispers:: …the Brigadier?

      And OF COURSE I had to shout out, your reviews are lovely, and the ones for this series are so spot on.

      • Miss Bates 30/07/2022 at 2:47 PM #

        Thank you so much, my dear, that means so much to me!!!

        Ah, the BRIGADIER, let’s just say you haven’t seen the last of him, though he remains in the shadows.

      • azteclady 30/07/2022 at 2:52 PM #

        ::bounces excitedly in chair::

      • Miss Bates 30/07/2022 at 4:33 PM #


  3. willaful 01/08/2022 at 2:51 PM #

    It sounds good! I wish my mom liked romance in her mystery. Or that I liked mystery in my romance. 😉

    • azteclady 01/08/2022 at 3:53 PM #

      There isn’t any actual romance in this one, if that helps sell your mom on it.

      • willaful 01/08/2022 at 4:37 PM #

        Oh funny, I just assumed from the title!

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