The Thorn Maze continues Karen Harper's saga of Queen Elizabeth the First as a sleuth. This time someone is killing members of her court and leaving the corpses in the mazes that feature as part of the royal gardens. There are plenty of suspects all of whom are in the higher circles of the Quuen's court; is it the murderous Lennoxes who cause Bess all manner of troubles with their machinations with the Scottish queen, or could her advisor William Cecil know more about the murders than he lets on?
If you enjoyed earlier books such as the Poyson Garden and the Queen's Cure then you will probably find that this is more of the same although it lacks the fizz of the earlier titles and acts as no more than a peep into our favourite characters.
The joy as always of this series are the periphery characters who form part of the Queen's Privy Plot council. We hear more about William Cecil's homelife in particular his early years and his disatisfied wife, which is a welcome insight into his character. Even Jenks the loyal bodyguard gets a beefier role this time around as he begins to court Meg the Queen's herbalist and sometime decoy. My only gripe is that there isn't much of Ned Topside, the true object of Meg's affection, a little more of his reactions to Jenks wooing Meg would have added some welcome spice.
Queen Bess is as ever a likeable figure struggling to keep her court safe from political wrangles with the Scots as well as tracking down a killer. The subplot dealing with Kat's dementia is tactuflly handled and moving, but the mystery itself seems to take a backseat to character development which is a pity. The denoument of the real killer after pages of redherrings is a big let down and comes across as tacked on.
I await eagerly the release of the next installment 'Queen's Christmas' and hope that that the mystery is sufficiently juicy as well as a more in depth look at the historical events of the time. For those like me who can't wait for the next book I would suggest The Ursula Blanchard mysteries by Fiona Buckley where the sleuth is a lady of Elizabeth's court.