on 1 October 2011
In this, the second adventure for Mistress Ursula Blanchard, lady in waiting and intelligencer for the Virgin Queen, Ursula is sent to the home of a well-known but hitherto quiet Catholic family in Oxfordshire, where in her last mystery, she briefly enjoyed hospitality.
The home of the Masons is chaotic, with a harrassed wife Ann to eccentric scholar and inventor Leonard along with a dusty priest Dr Crichton, who tries and fails to keep the elder boys' spirits in check. Ursula has left behind life at court and her little daughter Meg and also gone against her heart's desire to be reconciled to her recusant husband Matthew, currently in exile in France for his Catholic plots (of which Ursula foiled one and had to choose between her husband and her queen/country). Ostensibly there to help Ann tutor her girls in embroidery and dancing, Ursula, with the aid of her faithful servants Fran Dale and Roger Brockley, must find out what's afoot at the Mason household, which led to one of William Cecil's spies being murdered, apparently a plot involving the ever-threatening Mary Stuart and a bid to put her on Elizabeth's throne. There are plenty of puzzling things going on - faked tapestries adorning the walls, blueprint sketches of crazy inventions including a flying contraption and hidden invoices in ripped doublets. But can she work out what it all means before her enemies send her the way of William Cecil's other spy?
The story is good overall, though a little slow in places, and rather long-winded at the end. But still worth a read, with a nice little play on words twist to finish.