Following on from her exploits in A Murder At Rosamund’s Gate (and preceding those in The Masque Of A Murderer), Lucy Campion has found herself in a difficult position. The former lady’s maid at the house of a magistrate no longer has a lady to, er, maid (what is the verb there?) – the plague-fire combination of London 1666 rather took its toll on families.
She finds a job as a sort-of apprentice to a printer, writing, printing and selling manuscripts. But while she’s helping clean up after the Fire, she comes across a dead body stuffed inside a barrel in the ruins of a public house. But the cause of death wasn’t plague, fire or drinking oneself to the bottom of said barrel. It’s the knife in his chest. Lucy soon finds herself swept up in the hunt for a murderer and for the solution of a cryptic message that the corpse was carrying…
Many thanks to Susanna Calkins for sending me a copy of this one. I’d loved the first and third book but was having difficulty finding a copy of this one. And apologies for taking so long to get round to it – Operation: Golden Age got in the way somewhat.
As I said, I loved books 1 and 3 and I loved this one too. Lucy is a charming lead, surrounded by a great cast of supporting characters, both from the magistrate’s house and the printers. And in one of my favourite touches, Lucy admits to herself that she’s not entirely sure why she is so determined to investigate the murder – there isn’t any real reason beyond natural curiosity – which neatly sidesteps the idea of why a printer’s apprentice is also an amateur sleuth.
The plot is suitably convoluted as we learn more and more about what happened the night the pub burned down and more and more pieces of the puzzling note are revealed. It keeps moving forward with some nice twists and turns while still evoking a real sense of the period – not one covered much in historical mystery fiction.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if it’s a clued mystery, but the villain made sense and was also a surprise, which is a nice combination. The puzzle… not entirely sure as to the logic behind its existence in the first place as surely the writer would have set something that the recipient could work out a little quicker. But regardless of that, this is a historical mystery full of well-constructed characters and a lead that continues to develop nicely. Highly Recommended.