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Friday, September 27, 2013

Review - Murder at Hatfield House

This week we look at a new historical mystery series set in the tumultuous and terrifying time of Queen Mary reigning in England.  I eagerly read this book because this time period is fertile for a suspenseful murder mystery.

Author: Amanda Carmack

Copyright: October 2013 (Signet) 288 pgs

Series: 1st in Elizabethan Mysteries series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Suspense

Main Characters: Kate Haywood, 18 year old musician in the employ of princess Elizabeth

Setting: 1558, England (during the rule of Bloody Mary)

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

The reigning queen is Mary, Daugter of Henry VIII, and a rabid Catholic. Her reign was filled with executions of Protestants, thus earning her the name "Bloody Mary."  Mary took control of the government after the failed attempt by Henry VIII's only legitimate son, Edward VI, to by-pass Mary and turn the throne over to his cousin Lady Jane Grey.  Mary seized the throne and had her cousin Jane publicly executed. Being of the protestant faith would get you killed under Mary's rule as a heretic and traitor.  It is in this highly charged political atmosphere that this story takes place.  Catholic Queen Mary has a protestant sister, Elizabeth, who has the only other legitimate claim to the throne.  Elizabeth tries to live a quiet life at Hatfield manor house and avoid her sister's wrath, which means enduring Mary's agents who regularly search her home trying to find Protestant teachings or bibles to try her as a traitor. 

The story starts as one such agent from Queen Mary, Lord Braceton, is approaching Hatfield house and his assistant is shot with an arrow and dies. Needless to say, Braceton proceeds to make Elizabeth and her household suffer for the murder of his assistant.  Elizabeth, under house arrest, begins turning to Kate to secretly be her eyes and ears.  Kate vows to help her princess and uncover who the murderer is, even if she is placed in increasing peril.

Kate Haywood is a kind girl in a harsh and dangerous time. She loves her father and is devoted to her friends and the Princess. She is brave in her desire to help others and was a heroine that I found easy to root for her success.  Her father, Matthew Haywood, lives for his music and is a delight. Princess Elizabeth Tudor is portrayed as loyal to those who have been loyal to her, fierce in her sense of duty to those who rely on her, has a terrible temper that she holds in check, and very politically savvy. I really liked the portrayal of a steely woman caught in the middle of dangerous political plots.  I must mention Anthony, the young law apprentice who likes Kate more than as a friend, even if she doesn't realize it.  Ned, a mute kitchen boy, is a bittersweet character.  Lord Braceton is portrayed to give a sense of just how scary the times were with powerful bullies throwing their weight around. I both feared the character and what he might do while wishing for him to get justice delivered upon him.

Most of the story takes place at Hatfield House or the nearby
Hatfield House, Princess Elizabeth's residence
town. The photo shows what Hatfield House really looked like rather than the book cover.  There are a few scenes at other manor houses.  The dark hallways, tower rooms, and hidden passageways add to the historical time and the sense of danger.  The village is also a great setting with danger seemingly in every encounter.

The plot presents a well hidden enemy who clearly has an agenda against the Queen and any of the Queen's officials. The  killer is quick and deadly, can strike with an arrow or a knife.  But why and who is elusive.  I was guessing until close to the reveal.  The pace kept steady as Kate investigated and more incidences of murder occured. 

The climax with Kate and the killer is intense and dramatic. I did feel the resolution to the killer confrontation was sudden and seemed a let down.  The wrap-up nicely setups the next book and promises to provide even more political intrigue for Kate.

I found this a great historical suspense with a solid murder mystery and very enjoyable heroine.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Here is a short video that gives the setting of Queen Mary's horrifying reign that is central in the novel. Warning: references to violence and bloodshed

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