on 2 April 1997
One of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth's courtiers, Sir Robert Appleton, is renowned for spiriting those Protestants loyal to Elizabeth out of the country when Mary ruled. He is pressed into political missions overseas as a reward for his loyalty. This pleases him because he believes that if he serves his sovereign with honor, she will eventually reward him with a peerage. Robert's spouse, herbalist Susanna, is elated with the arrangement because she is free to do what she wants when he is out of the country.
..... Before Robert departs on his mission to France, he receives word that his steward at Appleton Manor was found dead, laying face down in the bone marrow pie. A second missive arrives after he leaves the country. This time Susanna rushes up to Appleton to learn that the place has been abandoned since a ghost has appeared on the premise and frightened everyone away. When Susanna arrives at the manor, she realizes that the murder of the steward and the arrival of the ghost are an attempt to lure Sir Robert onto the premises for reasons most deadly. Sir Robert is tricked into meeting his wife at the manor. Susanna knows that she must work quickly to uncover the identity of the mastermind of the grand scheme before her spouse becomes the next victim.
..... The mystery world has gained a fantastic new historical cozy writer in Kathy Lynn Emerson as she makes the early stages of the reign of Elizabeth I come gloriously to life. The historical detail is so vivid and colorful that FACE DOWN IN THE BONE MARROW PIE could be easily turned into a mesmerizing movie. The female protagonist is a person ahead of her times. She uses her natural intelligence in a shrewd way that remains consistent with the era; yet this skill allows her to do things normally done by males only. There is a special magic to this Elizabethan cozy that makes it a must read that hopefully will be followed by more books starring Susanna.
First Sentence: Steam rose from the marrow-bone pie until the old man's sharp beak of a nose wrinkled in delight.
Sir Robert Appleton is off to France on a mission for Queen Elizabeth. A letter he receives, shortly before his trip, tells of the death of John Bexwith, steward of Appleton Manor in Lancashire. As Bexwith was not old and was found dead face down in a marrow-bone pie, Lady Susanna Appleton, who is writing an herbal and knowledgeable of poisons, suspects his death to be unnatural. In spite of tales that a ghost haunts Appleton Manor, Susanna decides to unmask the ghost, find the killer and put the manor to rights.
I'd not read Emerson before. Two things, in particular, stand out with her writing; her characters and her research.
Lady Susanna is delightful. She is smart--highly educated for the time, practical--not given to superstition or fancy, and independent. She is certainly the most developed of the characters, yet the personalities of the other characters come through as well.
Ms. Emerson's research is apparent. The period is a fascinating one in which there, as Sir Robert puts it "...too many queens..." The offset of Susanna's activities by Robert's in France, provides a view of their relationship and of the time. The information on plants and herbs was fascinating but I also didn't realize that hair jewelry, memorializing the dead, dates back as far as the 16 century.
The story is well plotted with a good balance of suspense. There was, however, a fairly obvious hint as to the killer. What was lacking was a strong sense of time and place.
At times, I felt the story read as much more modern than the setting. This was mainly due to the language being quite modern. However, as the first in a series, I did enjoy it enough that I'm interested in reading the next book.
FACE DOWN IN THE MARROW-BONE PIE (Hist. Mys-Lady Susanna Appleton-England-1559) - G+
Emerson, Kathy Lynn - 1st in series
St. Martin's Press, 1997, US Hardcover - ISBN: 0312151233