Copyright: April 2012 (Signet) 384 pgs
Series: 2nd in Lady Fan Mystery
Sensuality: mild references
Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth, Cozy
Main Character: Lady Ottilia Fanshawe
Setting: 1790 England, village of Witherley
Obtained Through: publisher for an honest review
Lord Francis Franshawe and his new bride Ottilia have a broken down carriage on the way home from visiting Ottilia's elderly godmother. Ottilia's insatiable curiosity comes into the picture when they learn the nearby town of Witherley's blacksmith, Duggleby, died during the storm the previous night from a suspicious roof cave-in. Ottilia manages to finagle staying in the village while there carriage is off finding a blacksmith to repair it. Lord Francis Franshawe notices that a roof cross beam had been cut and Ottilia manages to slip in and examine the corpse, discovering he had been hit in the head, likely with a hammer.
But what ensures that the newlyweds stay in town and investigate is that the villagers have been whipped into a frenzy, believing that Mrs. Cassie Dale is a witch and killed Duggleby. Ottilia suspects that the real killer is very cunning and waited until Cassie had one of her visions to strike. Ottilia must discover who the killer is before Cassie is burned as a witch
Ottilia is shrewd and a bit playful. She has a whip-sharp mind that she loves to exercise in outsmarting killers. She also is quick to manipulate the situation to her benefit, rather than just go against conventions. Lord Francis is a refreshing male who is proud of his wife's mental prowess while fiercely protective. He proves himself an able sidekick. A great supporting cast member is the newly arrived parson who is not going to let the town's residents kill an innocent girl (even if she has visions). He proves to have a lion's heart in facing this village of strangers that are to be his congregation. He is delightfully portrayed as he faces his own struggles.
The town of Witherley is effective brought to life with its wealthy patron, competing bars, and more than a few secrets. The mob mentality is believable rendered to the page. The dialogue of the villagers was difficult at times as the strong Cockney-like accent is brought to the page.
The plot keeps moving throughout, delivering some surprises that had me gasping. It maybe a small town, but the killer is smart, wily, and dangerous. However improbably it might be that a random carriage breakdown would result in a murder investigation from strangers, the premise works adequately for this tale. What does seem a little too convenient is how easily Ottilia is able to go about town and question people. The situation seems too quickly accepted that an outsider is question the villagers.
The confrontation with the killer delivered a good scene with a few surprises. The wrap up finished everything neatly. Overall I found this book a fun and thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery and I am kicking myself that I didn't read the first one now.
4 cups fresh blackberries, washed, drained well
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats
pinch of salt
1/2 stick softened butter (4 tbsp)