When James learns that an uncle he hasn’t heard from in ages has left him something in his will, he figures that the least he can do is head down to Cornwall for a weekend to honor the old man’s parting wishes. He finds the family home filled with half-remembered guests and unwanted memories, but more troubling is that his uncle has tasked his heirs with uncovering the truth behind a woman’s disappearance twenty years earlier.
Leo doesn’t like any of it. He’s just returned from one of his less pleasant missions and maybe he’s slightly paranoid about James’s safety, but he’s of the opinion that rich people aren’t to be trusted where wills are concerned. So he does what any sensible spy would do and infiltrates the house party.
Together they unravel a mystery that exposes long-standing family secrets and threatens to involve James more than either of them would like.
The Missing Page is the second book to feature country doctor James Sommers and spy Leo Page, whom we first met in Hither, Page, a cosy mystery (sort of – true cosies aren’t supposed to include sex or swearing and there’s a little bit of both here!) set in a sleepy English village a few years after the end of World War II. That book came out in 2019, so we’ve had a bit of a wait for this sequel, but it was worth it; The Missing Page is a charming, clever and none-too serious riff on the classic Country House Mystery in which we learn more about James’ past when he visits the childhood home to which he hasn’t returned in twenty years.
By the time the book begins, Leo has been ‘lodging’ in James’ house in Wychcomb St. Mary for over a year, and they’ve settled into a kind of domesticity neither had ever thought to have, although Leo’s job as a government agent takes him away fairly often. James is eagerly awaiting Leo’s return from his most recent mission – but shortly before he’s due back, James receives a letter advising him of the death of his uncle, Rupert Bellamy, and asking him to be present at the reading of the will at the family home in Cornwall. James spent many summers at Blackthorn as a child following the death of his parents, but was whisked away following a family tragedy in 1927 and was never invited back.
James is greeted by his cousin Martha, who had kept house for their uncle for as long as James can remember, and finds Rupert’s surviving daughter, James’ cousin Camilla, her husband Sir Anthony – a Harley Street doctor – and their daughter Lilah, whom he’s surprised to recognise as a famous actress, already gathered together, as well as a woman he doesn’t know at all, who is introduced as Madame Fournier. The bequests are surprisingly small, until the very end, when the family solicitor reads the final appendix stating that the bulk of the estate will go to whoever can discover what really happened to Rupert’s other daughter Rose on 1st August 1927. Rose is widely believed to have drowned that day, although there were lots of other rumours in circulation – she took her own life, she ran off with the chauffeur or the vicar, she was murdered – among them, but Rose’s body was never found and nothing conclusive was ever discovered.
When Leo – exhausted after a very long journey – returns to Wychcomb St. Mary to find James gone, he pays a visit to their friends, former spies Cora and Edith, hoping that perhaps he’ll find James there. When the ladies tell him where James has gone and why, Leo becomes concerned, especially at learning James had been present on the day that Rose Bellamy is thought to have died, worried at what memories being back there might stir up. Leo wastes no time in following James to Cornwall, determined to do whatever he can to help.
Cat Sebastian has crafted an intriguing story full of difficult family dynamics and long-held secrets, and she sustains the mystery right up until the last moment; I certainly didn’t work out the truth until just before the reveal. There’s a strongly defined set of secondary characters, from Martha the drab poor-relation, to Sir Anthony, the know-it-all who clearly looks down on James, and the mysterious Madame Fournier – and James and Leo themselves continue to be easy to enjoy and root for. James is a genuinely good man, quiet and easy-going, happy with his quiet country life after the horrors of war and with Leo, while Leo operates more in shades of grey than in black and white and has been struggling more and more to reconcile the life he has with the life he wants. Leo still finds it difficult to credit that a man as good as James could actually want to be with someone with such a murky past as his, but the obvious care and affection they have for each other permeates every page, and I loved watching them working together on the investigation, their different approaches and outlooks complementing each other. The author cleverly explores James’ past through his interactions with his family members, and I particularly enjoyed Leo’s typical cynicism and the way he’s so protective of James. As far as their relationship goes, they’re at that awkward stage where both of them want more but aren’t sure what the other is willing or able to give, but thankfully, there are no silly misunderstandings and they both realise that although they still have issues to work on, they want to work through them together.
The Missing Page is one of those books that’s easy to sink into and feels almost like a warm hug, but I do have a few niggles. It’s generally on the slow side and doesn’t have the same kind of forward momentum as Hither, Page and while I did like the mystery, it’s not very high-stakes, especially not for our heroes. As with the last book, the author has done a very good job with the English setting, but the odd Americanism still creeps in (“muffler” instead of “scarf” for example). Finally, I was confused as to the timeline; Hither Page takes place in 1946 and the date for this is given as 1948, but then I read James thinking of Leo: “They had only met a little over two months ago”. To be fair, I did have an ARC, so I’m hoping this will have been corrected/clarified in the finished version, but it did make me scratch my head.
All in all, however, The Missing Page is an easy, enjoyable read featuring two engaging leads, and I’m pleased to recommend it to anyone who likes their mystery with a side of romance. I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Mr. Page and Dr. Sommers.