In The Dutch Wife, debut novelist Ellen Keith shines a spotlight on two forgotten victims of history: prostitutes in Nazi labor camps and “the Disappeared” in Argentina’s state-sponsored terrorism of the 1970s.
When Dutch resistance fighter Marijke de Graaf and her husband are arrested and sent to different concentration camps in Nazi Germany, Marijke is given a terrible choice: to suffer a slow death in the labor camp or—for a chance at survival—to join the camp brothel.
Keith explains that she did not originally set out to write about these relatively unheard-of women, initially thinking to write about an SS officer, exploring his motivations and mindset, but when determining how to portray him through the eyes of those he impacted, she turned to the SS brothels and made a surprising discovery. “While I was hunting down information, I discovered that prisoners in certain concentration camps also had access to prostitutes, one of Himmler’s ideas on how to incentivize the camp labor force and thereby boost economic productivity. The notion of these brothels was so surprising I almost found it hard to believe. Until recently, little research has been published on this subject, and given how the prisoners’ visits would have negatively affected the forced prostitutes, it’s also a difficult topic with some stigma attached. But I was so moved by the ordeal these women went through that it quickly became central to the novel’s plot.”
And thus Marijke eventually becomes central to SS officer Karl Müller, who arrives at Buchenwald hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps in achieving wartime glory. But the routine of overseeing punishments and executions takes a toll. Looking for an escape, he visits the brothel and meets the beautiful Marijke. Over a series of encounters, Karl falls in love with Marijke, and to her growing dismay, Marijke finds herself torn between her complicated feelings for Karl and her desperate need to find her husband.
The tagline for the novel is “we all have choices,” and really everything that happens in the novel, much as in real life, is a direct result of a choice being made. Marijke in particular seems to wrestle more with the emotional ramifications of her choices, especially in the blurring lines between her feelings for her husband and for Karl. Keith explains that portraying the dynamic between Marijke and Karl was one of the most difficult aspects of writing the novel:
“It was easy for me to figure out what Karl saw in Marijke but much more difficult to draw out her conflicted feelings for him. She is happily married, and under ordinary circumstances would never stray from her loyalty to Theo. But here she’s put in a position where she’s required to show affection to a man who has immense power over her. The question that I kept returning to was what makes women fall in love with and stay with abusive men. And while he is involved in plenty of human suffering, Karl believes himself to be refined and well-educated, a man with a deep appreciation for fine art and beauty. He highlights this side of himself in his interactions with Marijke, granting her glimpses of tenderness. And it’s this filtered view of him she latches on to, that in her need to separate the man he shows her within the walls of the brothel from the complete picture of who he is, she starts to make excuses for his behavior. A part of her wants to believe that he is caught up in a system, that he is misguided but not capable of such cruelty. For her, it becomes a struggle between emotion and rationality, which in turn was also a struggle for me. How genuine are her feelings for him, and where does the line fall? For every reader, the answer to this will be different, depending on their own outlooks on love and relationships.”
Karl also struggles with his choices. “It was important for me to try to make Karl feel human, driven by passionate beliefs and full of excuses for his actions. I didn’t want him to be a stereotypical villain, but more representative of the average German citizens who found themselves living under a fascist regime and being forced to make a choice between resistance, compliance, and total support. I was trying to understand the factors that motivated men like Karl to join the SS and how they justified their behavior.” Keith goes on to say that it wasn’t easy. “Everyone who read early drafts of the manuscript had varying views on Karl’s character. Several felt I was treating him too softly in the beginning, that he was painted too favorably and that he didn’t buy into party ideology enough. In response, I hardened him up a bit. He turns to science as a way to validate racism and homophobia and becomes so committed to the restoration of national glory that he accepts the concept that the end justifies the means. With each draft, I added more backstory about Karl’s life, trying to hone in on the way his youth and relationship with his father shaped his own values. What I ended up with is a character that some readers may hate, that others may like, but hopefully one that everyone at some level or another, can begin to understand.”
author photo by Geneviève Chassé
In The Dutch Wife, Keith presents readers with a version of the concentration camp that many may not be familiar with. She describes her research into the prisoners’ brothels as a surprise that “completely altered the direction of the story,” highlighting how these women received better treatment than she would have expected. “But beyond that, I learned a lot about the differences between labor camps like Buchenwald and extermination camps like Auschwitz. The latter, which contained gas chambers designed for mass executions, are what we mainly see portrayed in books and films about the Holocaust. But conditions in the labor camps were slightly different, and political prisoners like Marijke and her husband, Theo, had more privileges than Jewish ones. This is why some of the things that appear in my novel, such as the camp library, may seem at odds with what readers know about concentration camps.”
Interwoven with Karl’s and Marijke’s viewpoints in the story is that of Luciano, a young Argentinian living thirty years later, falsely accused and imprisoned for dissent and organizing disobedience against an oppressive government. Keith believes that Western society tends to focus on Nazi Germany even though many regimes in the 20th century were responsible for similar violence and persecution. After traveling throughout Argentina, she was struck by the close ties Argentina had with the Nazi party, both before and after WWII. “I visited Bariloche in Argentina in 2012 and was struck by the visible German influence there. And when I learned about the Nazis who had fled to Bariloche and other parts of Argentina through the so-called ‘ratlines’ that sprang up after the war, I was hooked. I really wanted this to be a novel not just about WWII, but about the repercussions of that war, how the effects stayed with the victims and perpetrators for the rest of their lives and impacted multiple generations.”
With the addition of Luciano, Keith “wanted to emphasize the parallels between what happened in Nazi Germany and 1970s Argentina: the persecution of people with different political views, civilians violently snatched from their homes, the role of music in concentration camps and torture, the way the perpetrators lived in very close proximity to the prisoners they were abusing. These historical echoes are a reminder of how quickly things can escalate when we fail to show tolerance to people who are different from us.”
Her research for Luciano’s story also revealed surprises. “I was shocked by the descriptions of guard brutality that I encountered in my research on ‘the Disappeared’ in Argentina. Almost everything Luciano and his fellow prisoners go through in my novel reflects information I found in survivor testimonies from the clandestine prisons.”
With The Dutch Wife, Keith has written a sweeping, ambitious story that delves into the realm of tangled emotions, twisted motivations, and the blurred lines between love and lust and right and wrong. In conclusion, I asked her what she hoped readers would take away from this heart-wrenching tale. “I hope the novel reminds readers that political, religious, and racial persecution is as alive today as it was in Nazi Germany or during the Argentine Dirty War. And I hope it also shows how necessary it is to speak up when you do see injustices occurring, on behalf of those who no longer have a voice.”
About the contributor: Jennifer Quinlan, aka Jenny Q, is an independent editor and cover designer specializing in historical fiction. Jenny studied history at Virginia Tech and copyediting at the University of California, San Diego. She writes reviews and interviews authors for her blog, Let Them Read Books, and for Romantic Historical Reviews. She also moderates the American Historical Fiction group on Goodreads. She lives in Virginia with her husband, a Civil War re-enactor and fellow history buff.
Congrats to the following authors on their new releases! If you’ve written a historical novel or nonfiction work published (or to be published) in 2018 or after, please send the following details to us by July 7: author, title, publisher, release date, and a blurb of one sentence or less. Details will appear in August’s magazine. Submissions may be edited for space reasons.
Faith A. Colburn’s debut The Reluctant Canary Sings (Prairie Wind Press, Aug. 3, 2017), set in Cleveland, Ohio, begins during the second dip of the double-dip Depression (1937-1941); the only way Bobbi could save her family was to sing, but that made her a target in unexpected ways.
K. M. Sandrick’s debut The Pear Tree (IngramSpark, Aug. 27, 2017), a recent Global Ebook Award nominee, tells about the Nazis’ destruction of the small Czech town of Lidice in response to the killing of the head of Occupied Czechoslovakia; the execution of the town’s men; the separation and racial profiling of Lidice’s women and children; and survivors’ efforts to overcome fear and betrayal, seek the truth about lost loved ones, and find hope.
Preston Fleming’s Maid of Baikal (PF publishing, Oct. 15, 2017) is a richly imagined speculation on the Russian Civil War that answers the question: What if a Siberian Joan of Arc had rescued the White Armies at a critical point of the Russian Civil War in 1919?
In Rivers of Stone (Amazon Kindle, Nov. 19, 2017), Book 3 of Beth Camp’s family saga, Catriona McDonnell, disguised as a boy and employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and artist Paul Kane, crosses Canada in the 1840s in search of her husband.
Friendships deepen, romances blossom, and mysteries unfold in Julie Klassen’s The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Bethany House, Dec. 5, 2017), Book 2 of Tales from Ivy Hill.
Steven Neil’s The Merest Loss (Matador, Dec. 15, 2017) is a story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the longest running theatrical riot in British history, Carol M. Cram’s The Muse of Fire (Kindle Press/New Arcadia, Jan. 9) features a young actress who makes her debut at the famed Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and becomes ensnared by intrigues and setbacks that mar the pathway to stardom she craves.
In Christy Nicholas’s Misfortune of Vision, #4 in The Druid’s Brooch Series (Tirgearr, Jan. 10), set in 12th-c Ireland, Orlagh is Seer to her Chief, but she is determined to fulfill her own quest: to find a worthy heir for her magical brooch.
Tamar Anolic‘s novel Triumph of a Tsar (CreateSpace, Jan. 11) explores a world in which the Russian Revolution is averted and the hemophiliac Alexei, son of Tsar Nicholas II, comes to the throne.
In Paul W. Feenstra’s For Want of a Shilling (Mellester Press, Jan 21), about the mysterious Russian invasion hoax that shook colonial New Zealand, what begins as a local murder investigation turns into a plot of global proportions.
She wants her home; he wants control; the Fascists want both. This is the premise of Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger’s No Man’s Land: Reschen Valley 1 (CreateSpace, Jan. 25).
Christine Hancock’s Bright Sword: The Byrhtnoth Chronicles, Book 1 (The Book Guild, Jan. 28), set in the 10th century, centers on a boy who searches for a sword—but only when he defeats his own fears and becomes a man, can he claim it, and become Byrhtnoth, a great Anglo-Saxon warrior.
In Tiernan’s Wake (AudioArcadia, Jan. 30) by Richard T. Rook, an artist, lawyer/genealogist and historian use their different skills to locate the first identifiable portrait of the 16th-century Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley—and discover that Grace was close to finalizing a deal with England’s Queen Elizabeth that would have altered the course of European history.
In Sara Dahmen’s Widow 1881 (Sillan+Pace+Brown, Feb. 14), a very proper Boston widow hides an unexpected pregnancy under layers of lies by heading to Flats Junction, Dakota Territory, only to discover her physician employer threatens to upend all her best laid plans.
Set in the 13th century, as England and France struggle over territory, Erica Laine’s Isabella of Angouleme: The Tangled Queen Part 2 (SilverWood, Feb. 14) follows King John’s widow, Isabella of Angoulême, as she moves back to France to claim her inheritance amid forceful men who would stop her.
C.J. Heigelmann’s An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody (Common Folk Press, Feb. 23) is about an orphaned Asian boy who is adopted and grows up to fight in the American Civil War, where he falls in love with a slave.
Marilyn Pemberton‘s debut The Jewel Garden (Williams & Whiting, Feb. 23) tells of one Victorian woman’s physical, emotional and artistic journey from the East End of London to the noisy souks and sandy wastes of Egypt via the labyrinthine canals of Venice, and her fictional relationship with Mary De Morgan, a writer of fairy tales and one of William Morris’s circle of friends.
The Mark of Wu: Hidden Paths by Stephen M. Gray (Helu Press, Feb. 28) is an exotic action-adventure story set in ancient China with palace intrigue, epic battles and an emerging hero.
Set in New England and London in 1630-1677, Judith Guskin’s Longing to Be Free: The Bear, The Eagle, and The Crown (WonderSpirit Press, Mar. 1) tells a story of conflict through the life of a stalwart woman, Comfort Bradford, daughter of Gov. of Plymouth, who fights against the intolerance, both religious and cultural, that shaped American values.
In Animal Dances by Jim Saunders (Shorehouse, Mar. 1), Harry Edwards is conscripted into the Great War and discovers a new and unrealized capacity for decisiveness and action in the face of danger, while back home, Fannie, his girlfriend, struggles to remain faithful, and his family must deal with a killing flu.
Set in 1585, in an England beset by foreign enemies and swirling rumours of Catholic plots, Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick (Courant, Mar. 12) tells the story of a young woman’s struggle to avoid an arranged marriage at a time when duty and obedience were valued above personal wishes.
A reluctant aristocratic sleuth finds she’s investigating her own family in Jane Steen’s Lady Helena Investigates (Aspidistra Press, Mar. 14).
In The Breach: Reschen Valley 2 by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger (CreateSpace, Mar. 15), burying the past comes at a high price.
The Lace Weaver, the debut novel from Lauren Chater (Simon & Schuster Australia, Mar. 19), is a sweeping tale of love and loss set in 1940s Estonia.
The Blood of Princes, second in Derek Birks’ Craft of Kings series (CreateSpace, Mar. 31), is a savage tale of love, treason and betrayal surrounding the “Princes in the Tower.”
Penny Ingham’s The Saxon Plague (Nerthus, Apr. 2) is set in 5th-century Britain: When Vortigern recruits Hengist’s Saxon warband to subdue the northern tribes, he unwittingly unleashes a reign of terror, treachery and bloodshed; and when he forces Hengist’s sister Anya to marry him, only the gods can foresee the devastating chain of events set in motion.
In Misfortune of Song by Christy Nicholas, #5 in The Druid’s Brooch Series (Tirgearr, Apr. 4), set in 12th-c Ireland, Maelan must decide between his own honor and his headstrong granddaughter’s happiness.
In Michal Strutin’s Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus (Bedazzled Ink, Apr. 10), based on brief biblical verses, Noa pursues justice for her sisters and herself to escape bondage in the face of family squabbles, political tricksters, and deadly religious fanatics set against the sweeping turbulence of the Exodus.
The Scarlet Pimpernel meets Gone with the Wind in Jessica James’s The Lion of the South: A Novel of the Civil War (Patriot Press, Apr. 12), a suspenseful novel that leaves the lives of two men—and the destiny of a nation—in one woman’s hands.
In Ghosts and Exiles by Sandra Unerman (Mirror World Publishing, Apr. 17), set in 1930s London, Tilda Gray and her family fight the ghosts which threaten a young friend and spirits whose powers they do not understand.
In J. G. Harlond’s A Turning Wind (Penmore, Apr. 23), set in 1640, from the trading colony of Goa to the royal courts of England and Spain, the wily Ludo da Portovenere fulfils dangerous secret commissions on his own terms and for his own reasons.
An Unwilling Alliance by Lynn Bryant (indie, Apr. 30) is a novel of war and romance set during the Copenhagen campaign of 1807.
The Game of Hope by Sandra Gulland (Penguin Canada, May 1; also Penguin US, Jun. 23) is a YA novel based on the teen years of Hortense de Beauharnais, Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter and Napoleon’s stepdaughter.
Karen Lee Street’s novel Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru (Pegasus, May 8) is set in Philadelphia in 1844: as violent tensions escalate between nativists and recent Irish immigrants, Edgar Allan Poe and his friend C. Auguste Dupin strive to unravel a mystery involving old enemies, lost soul-mates, ornithomancy, and the legendary jewel of Peru.
Kate Heartfield’s Armed in Her Fashion (ChiZine, May 17), set in Flanders in 1328, follows a widow who leads a raiding party into the mouth of Hell to claim her inheritance and protect her daughter.
Set in England in 1176, E.M. Powell’s The King’s Justice (Thomas & Mercer, Jun. 1), first in a new medieval mystery series, features Aelred Barling, esteemed clerk to the justices of King Henry II, who is dispatched from the royal court with his young assistant, Hugo Stanton, to investigate a brutal murder in a village outside York.
In Mark Scott Smith’s The Osprey and the Sea Wolf~The Battle of the Atlantic 1942 (CreateSpace/IngramSpark, Jun. 3) a seasoned U-boat captain and a rookie Mexican-American B-25 pilot engage in a hit and run battle off the coast of North America and deal with love, betrayal and loss on the home front.
Set in 1810 England, The Thieftaker’s Trek by Joan Sumner (Bastei Lubbe AG – Bastei Entertainment, Jun. 12), tells a tale of revenge, blackmail, and murder. Frobisher, the thieftaker, is hired to rescue a 5-year-old boy abducted from Spitalfields to work with child slaves in a cotton mill, while murder is investigated by a Bow Street detective in London; is this coincidental or linked?
Give Up the Dead (The Mystery Press, Jul. 5) the fifth book in C.B. Hanley’s medieval mystery series, sees Edwin Weaver travelling with an army to repel a French invasion; however, he soon realises that danger is nearer at hand, and that the French aren’t the only ones trying to kill him.
In Last Dance in Kabul by Ken Czech (Fireship, Aug 2), British army captain Reeve Waterton tries to warn of an impending insurrection in 1841 Afghanistan, but the only one who listens is Sarah Kane, who not only detests him, she is also betrothed to his bitterest rival.
In The Eyes That Look: The Secret Story of Bassano’s Hunting Dogs (Universe Press, Oct), Julia Grigg’s richly-imagined coming-of-age adventure, Francesco Bassano sets out to unravel the mystery of the portrait which his father, Jacopo, painted and furnish Giorgio Vasari with information entertaining enough to guarantee a favourable mention in his Lives of the Artists.
Santa Fe Mourning is the promising start to a new series. It is set in the 1920s when losses from the First World War were fresh and Prohibition meant everyone knew a bootlegger. Madeline Vaughn-Alwin is a well-born New Yorker whose husband died in Flanders. She shocks her society family by moving to Santa Fe, where she is free to live as a painter, among friends who are not the upper crust. When Tomas Anaya, Maddie’s gardener, married to her housekeeper Juanita, is murdered, his teen son Eddie is arrested. Maddie is protective of the Anayas and determined to prove Eddie’s innocence.
Allen covers a great deal of ground in a natural narrative- and character-driven way. She touches on the insularity of pueblo life, from which Tomas and Juanita have been expelled; the deadly effects of bootlegging; and the calculations of a false medium who preys on those who want to hear from their lost loved ones. Maddie has a love interest in a handsome British doctor as well as a gay best friend, a novelist who is as supportive of Maddie’s career as her family is dismissive of it. Santa Fe is the perfect setting for this collection of artists, people trying to make a fresh start, and, unfortunately, those who would take advantage of them. Although this mystery is resolved, the book ends with a cliffhanger, setting the stage for Maddie’s next mystery.
Huang Zixia is a remarkable young Chinese woman with a penchant for solving complex murder mysteries; a skill she has displayed since she was a child in ancient China. She’s now in exile, having been accused of poisoning her family to escape an unwanted marriage. She’s determined to discover the true killer and seek revenge. But circumstances interfere when she meets Prince Li Shubai, an enigmatic personality attracted to her. For his own reasons, he decides to help her solve the mystery as well as another involving a serial killer. This storyline begins when Li Shubai chooses a bride to be, a pretty woman who suddenly disappears from the court and eventually winds up dead. Li Shubai convinces Huang Zixia that to help figure out the mystery, she needs to disguise herself as a court eunuch. She settles into this role quickly and effectively.
The clues are artfully placed, with none of the annoying repetition that frequently belabors crime novels. The reader gets so involved in the mystery that one doesn’t really care if it is ultimately solved, but instead just enjoys the puzzle parts of the plot. Huang Zixia and Li Shubai become closer as they unravel a plot about rebel forces determined to overthrow the royal family. Huang Zixia has more power than an ordinary eunuch of her class but seems to escape the normal intrigues of those dependent on both rulers and other eunuchs for their advancement and success. The Golden Hairpin is a finely crafted historical mystery certain to engage and satisfy all readers. This is the first of a series, so there’s more to come and enjoy!
On 8 January 1697, a young student at Edinburgh University, 20-year-old Thomas Aikenhead, was executed for blasphemy. This was the last execution in Britain for such an offence. Richardson’s novel is based around this historical event, but Aikenhead is merely one of four major characters. We first meet young Thomas as a boy of six, when the lives of his family and those of Dr Robert Carruth and his wife Isobel first intersect. After an interval of 14 years, their paths cross again, and this turns out to have a major impact on the doctor and his wife.
The novel is constructed of two parts, each with alternating narrative voices recounting the story: Dr Carruth and young Thomas in the first part; Isobel Carruth and the morally ambiguous Mungo Craig, Thomas’s university friend, in the second. The first chapter is superbly written, portraying in a striking manner the autopsy of a pregnant woman by Dr Carruth and his senior colleague. Thus the reader is drawn into the action and engaged in the lives of the characters in a unique way.
Overall, the novel provides a vivid portrayal of 17th-century Edinburgh, the religious tensions of the times and the strict control of the kirk over every aspect of people’s lives. It is pre-Enlightenment Scotland, still in thrall to religious fanaticism, where ownership of atheistic books and any questioning of religious doctrine can lead to severe punishment, even death. The characters are well drawn and sympathetic; however, the supposed tensions between Dr Carruth and his wife Isobel, emphasised in the summary on the back cover, are never realised in any depth and only vaguely alluded to. Indeed, their relationship is neither fully nor convincingly drawn. This, however, makes for a small flaw in an otherwise well written and compelling novel.
England in the early 1960s. Paul Roberts is nineteen and home for the summer holidays after completing his first year at Sussex University. He lives with his parents in a conventional and respectable middle-class commuting suburb south of London. He is persuaded to join the local tennis club, where he is teamed up in a competition with Susan Mcleod, a married mother of two in her late 40s whose marriage is in a sad state. Against all of society’s conventions, they start an adulterous affair. The affair forms into a longer-term relationship, which then creates difficulties, which Paul narrates with a wistful, painful honesty. This early love shapes the rest of Paul’s life, his emotions and his relationships, as it resonates throughout the years until he reaches old age himself.
As you expect from fiction from Julian Barnes, it is a literate, intelligent, and beautifully written and observed novel. The narrator’s gentle, nostalgic and honest account of his liaison with Susan, as he looks back from the distance of fifty years, tries to make sense of their time together and all that happened subsequently. It is the most important event in Paul Roberts’ life. Julian Barnes demonstrates that you do not have to write challenging, experimental cutting-edge contemporary fiction to give the reader an insight into a life, to show how we can live today.
This is an intimate deep-dive into the thoughts of the composer Alma Schindler Mahler during her marriage to Gustav Mahler. Her upbringing in Belle Époque Vienna was intellectually and artistically privileged, but her choice to give up composing to support her celebrated husband’s career creates numerous opportunities for conflict and drama. Her up-and-down cycles of elation and depression, however, soon weary the reader, because Alma’s reactions are so oppressively self-centered, giving Sharratt few chances to bring to life any of the artistic geniuses with whom Alma interacts.
The one exception is the brash American musicologist Natalie Curtis, who offers Alma a glimpse into the possibilities the new century and the New World offer an independent artist-scholar—but her scenes are all too brief. Instead, readers get more description than they probably need of Alma’s many erotic obsessions and disappointments.
For fans of the setting, however, Sharratt’s considerable skill with descriptions of gorgeous Alpine countryside and the equally sumptuous social and musical soirées may be enough. The novel actually becomes more compelling as Alma’s social circle widens, and I found myself wishing that Sharratt would extend the narrative into the much more interesting second half of Schindler Mahler’s life, when she breaks free from the bourgeois constrictions of her life as Mahler’s muse and forges an identity for herself as arts patron, composer, and feminist.
The Killing Site is the ninth in Peacock’s Victorian-era Liberty Lane series. In 1847, Liberty is happily married to Robert Carmichael, mother to Harry and Helena, and mostly retired as a private detective. When Liberty is lured away from a dinner party and kidnapped, chapters alternate with her first-person narration as she tries to figure out where she is being held, and third-person narration from Robert, and Liberty’s friends Amos Legge and Tabby, as Robert acts on the kidnappers’ instructions, and Amos and Tabby conduct their own investigation.
I’ve read a few in the series and not consistently, but that doesn’t matter. I devoured this in one sitting because both characters and plot are gripping. Liberty has no active cases, so why was she targeted? What is Robert retrieving that is so valuable to the kidnappers? Peacock throws in a few red herrings as she takes the reader to the high-stakes denouement. Those red herrings do take focus away from the villains, whose motives are not revealed until the very end, so they are less compelling characters. Liberty, Amos, Tabby, and Robert, to a lesser extent, are the standouts of the story, and there’s even a cameo by Benjamin Disraeli. Peacock gets the atmosphere of London in 1847 just right; the streets, the clothes, the class relationships are all pitch perfect. I’ve now got to fill in my gaps in the series and eagerly await the tenth.
Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Ned Woods of Bow Street are struggling with the extra workload assigned to them. In an effort to earn additional funds for remodeling and expanding the police station, Magistrate Read is sending the principal officers far and wide to investigate crimes at the request of wealthy citizens willing to pay for the service. Nonetheless, when a shoe containing a severed foot washes up on the shore of the Thames, Lavender becomes determined to solve the mystery, despite the magistrate’s order. He and Woods quietly squeeze this potentially futile investigation into their already full schedules.
Lavender travels to meet with an aristocratic couple robbed on the highway after attending an upper-class party. While he is away, a purse snatcher attempts to target Lady Caroline, a good friend of Lavender’s wife. Soon afterwards, a guest at Lady Caroline’s soiree is found dead. The man’s body has been brazenly dumped in one of the old plague pits recently uncovered at Bow Street Station during construction work. The magistrate requires Lavender to spend hours surveilling a disgruntled man who has become a nuisance to a Member of Parliament. However, the detective would much rather investigate a shadowy new criminal gang his informant says has moved to London from the north of England. Once Lavender discovers the connection between all these seemingly unrelated cases, his life is in imminent danger.
Suspense soars when an enigmatic new adversary lures Lavender into a deadly trap. This fourth book in the mystery series combines a well-crafted plot and a set of likeable core characters. It also includes some gripping developments that surpass the routine crimes Bow Street principal officers typically handled, as well as a notorious historical event from 1812 interwoven with the story’s fictional strands.
This is another story in the Falco series set in Rome in the first century AD. It concerns Falco’s daughter, Flavia, who has taken over the detective work from her father. Flavia is recently married to Manlius Faustus, recovering from being struck by lightning on their wedding day. He was married before, and his ex-wife suddenly arrives to offer Flavia a job. A young girl, Clodia Volumnia, has died. Was it through a love potion, a broken heart because her parents would not arrange a marriage to a local boy for her, or something else? Flavia says she will not take the case, but on the same day as she is offered it, Manlius disappears. Why? Was it something to do with the lightning strike? Short on money and not knowing if she will ever see Manlius again, Flavia decides to take the job after all.
Lindsey Davis’s knowledge of ancient Rome, its geography and customs, is deep and excellent. Her characterisation is good, and the story twists and turns until all the facts are thoroughly known. She has written many books set in Rome, and her Marcus Didius Falco series is very popular. I have read and enjoyed many of them. This, however, is the sixth book in this follow-up series concerning Flavia and I am not particularly impressed. To me, they ramble, and the author takes time to get to the point. I remember the original Marcus Falco books as more precise, which sped up the story and kept the pages turning.