This is one of my favorite historical mystery series that I have followed since the first book. A little surprise as this is the first book in the series to leave England and send young Kate Haywood to a foreign country on the Queen's business. See how this change in location impacts what we have come to expect from this author and series.
Read the full reviews here: #1 Murder at Hatfield House (click here) , #2 Murder at Westminster Abbey (click here) , #3 Murder in the Queen's Garden (click here), and #4 Murder at Whitehall (click here), plus two posts by the author - guest post one (click here) and guest post two (click here).
Copyright: June 2016 (NAL) 304 pgs
Series: 5th in Elizabethan Mystery series
Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy
Main Characters: Kate Haywood, 18 year old musician in the court of newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I
Setting: 1561 at Imperial Château Fontainbleu in France
Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review
From the cover: "1561. Queen Elizabeth’s throne is threatened as Mary Queen of Scots—pushed in every direction by opposing and powerful forces—declares herself the rightful Queen of England. To discover her rival’s next unpredictable move, Elizabeth dispatches a party of trustworthy intimates to Mary’s court at Fontainebleau. Chief among them is Kate Haywood, who finds that the glittering balls and genial banquets conceal a web of poisonous ambition that soon turns deadly.
When a beautiful and disruptively flirtatious member of the visiting party is murdered, Kate suspects that the man who stands accused has been set up to discredit Elizabeth. She vows to find the real killer, but the French court is a labyrinth unlike any she has ever navigated before—and at every turn there are more traps set to spring."
Kate has her hands and thoughts full of delivering secret letters from Elizabeth's spymaster to an agent in France, tricky political intrigue that may have sacrificed a young traveling companion's life, and the two young men in her life each making clear their intentions. Rob Cartman, the young actor managing his own troupe, is sent to keep an eye on Kate and he is most grateful for every moment to keep her safe and show his devotion. Anthony Elias is about to start his own law practice and asks before she leave for France that Kate share his life. Are you team Rob or team Anthony? There are several traveling companions in the set of characters that each come under Kate's scrutiny. Amelia Wrightsman is the murder victim, who is far more than she ever appeared.
Château Fontainbleu is another brilliant setting for a murder, with the growing turmoil that eventually (after this story) turns into a civil war between the French Protestants called Huguenots and the influential but brutal Duke of Guise's Catholic family. Kate and the reader are venturing into a country that is a powder-keg ready to explode behind all the gold gilt luxury and extravagance. Pile on the court intrigue and speculation as to what Mary's, first cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth, intentions are towards England's throne for a heady mix. The murder only intensifies Queen Mary's suspicions towards cousin Elizabeth and puts any treaty at risk.
The plot plays off the truly volatile time with political pressure building to a bursting point to have a pretty and popular, yet unwisely flirtatious English noblewoman who is equally popular with the French court murdered during special festivities. Is the murder politically motivated to force Queen Mary into a stand off with England's still newly crowned Queen Elizabeth, or was their an even more sinister motive? A well setup conundrum indeed. The pacing isn't break-neck, but kept me spell bound all the same. The story has a good number of characters with various motives both personal and political or religious, but the pacing never suffers from the details of the many motivations.
The killer confrontation occurs when Kate and Rob help set a trap for the killer and things don't go as planned. Some good thrills during those scenes. The wrap-up leaves Kate with important life decisions yet to be made.
I enjoy historical mysteries immensely, and this is one of my favorite series in the genre. Kate is a phenomenal character that not only gives us entrance into the court life, but gifts a few helpings of political intrigue through the eyes of a kind young woman with more freedom than most are allowed in the time period because she is serving the Queen. With each new book in the series I swear it is the best yet, and this addition is the same.
Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down I was so captivated. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.
And for your listening pleasure, one of my favorite French songs (since the book takes place in France) sung by Victoria Vox. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAKHxL6pSCA