I am not, generally, a big fan of historical mystery fiction. On the other hand, a well-written novel that really captures the time and the sense of the place can be vastly interesting. When an author does that, we readers can learn a bit more about the real life of the time and place than is typically found in our school text books. That's fortunate.
Here is an author who immerses us in the life and times of two people in early Seventeenth Century London. Author S. K. Rizzolo has captured and set down on paper what feels like the real London in a real era. London with its crowded streets, its hurly burly and its smoke and ash, and its obsessive sense of class and rules. It is fully accurate? I don't know of course, but it feels right, and that's important. This is Regency London with all its finery and its pimples.
Bow Street Runner John Chase is back, (see The Rose in The Wheel) trying to solve the murder of a mysterious footman called Dick Ransome. The footman was employed in the household of Lord Ashe, a man to be both reckoned with for his class and his wealth, and scorned for his personality and nasty proclivities. Another interesting character from Rizzolo's first novel (see above) is Penelope West. Her errant husband is off doing his art somewhere in Ireland, and Penelope, with her child, Sarah, has become a Companion to Lady Ashe, daughter of wealthy and powerful Sir Roger Wallace-Crag, a position not fit for an inquisitive woman of her disposition, but Penelope's circumstances require it.
When the footman is found stabbed in Wallace-Crag's garden, John Chase begins an investigation. At about the same time, Penelope, increasingly aware of strange undercurrents and rising vicious gossip below-stairs and above, learns about troubling events from both the recent and distant past. These parallel investigations by two carefully flawed characters allow us to visit important and fascinating elements of London society of the time in a way that would have been impossible without their presence in the story. It is a clever and effective construct. From outside the family, Chase learns troubling facts while stalking the streets and institutions of the city, as does Penelope from inside the chambers of a family that has many secrets.
The writing is intelligent and to the point. The pages of the novel are peopled with interesting and compelling fictitious and real people such as Lord Byron, and the charismatic religious, Rebecca Barnwell. The mystery is tightly controlled, fits the characters and the time, and provides a number of surprises along the way. Author Rizzolo has an exciting era to mine for many more regency mysteries. I look forward to them.