Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
Francis Bacon is appointed to a disturbing and unwelcome job, as a member of a commission involved in the interrogation of Catholics. This is regarded as service to his country, with Catholic Spain being England’s enemy and religion and politics being intertwined. Meanwhile, Lady Alice Trumpington, looking forward to the eventual privileges and property of widowhood, marries a very old man. The book opens with her wedding night—both a comedy scene and a love scene—and then a murder. Someone kills her husband while she is not in bed with him. This plot thread weaves into Francis’s unpleasant assignment when the murder is connected to others—all the victims men suspected of Catholic sympathies.
A group of intelligent, purposeful widows engage Francis to investigate and become Lady Alice’s advisors in her new role. The complexity of the law as it applied to women and religion is integrated into the story without the slightest hitch in the action. (Should anyone need a reminder why the separation of church and state was a wise innovation in the development of democratic government, or why women’s rights have been such a long work in progress, a trip back in time to Elizabethan England will provide it.)
There’s a delightfully Shakespearean flavor to Lady Alice’s and her maidservant’s adventures in disguise, as well as an illustration of the limits on a woman’s freedom. Castle's writing style is polished, her research thorough, her mastery of the idiom of the times excellent, and her characters are irresistible. The relationships established in the previous books continue to develop, especially the connection between Tom Clarady and Trumpet (Lady Alice).
A sailor from Tom’s father’s ship is an original new character, and I liked seeing England through his eyes. However, he delivers a plot turn so strong its emotional impact overshadows everything else. I never guessed whodunit, but I was so taken up with the new events that I forgot to try to figure it out. There is also a bit of wordplay-based misunderstanding relating to this sailor that I found somewhat stretched. Until this point, the balance between serious and comic material felt exactly right, and I was thinking that the book was the best in the series. After that, however, the transitions seemed too close together, so the impact of each was, to my mind, blunted. I would have preferred to have the new story line come at the beginning of the next book. And I will read the next book. Though I didn’t find this one to be quite perfect, I most definitely enjoyed it.