Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From the stench of St. Giles to the highest Society Drawing Rooms

The Detective Lavender Mysteries #4
Karen Charlton
Thomas & Mercer
January 11, 2018

It's 1812 and Principal Officer of the Bow Street Station, Stephen Lavender, and his fiery Spanish wife, Magdalena, are two years married and happily living in London. They would be happier, however, if Stephen were not called away on cases so often. Government funding is always scarce for Bow Street, so they supplement their income by sending Runners out on private investigations. As a Principal Officer, Lavender is much in demand.

Upon returning to London, Lavender is back to work immediately. Highwaymen are roaming the nearby countryside, vicious gangs are on the prowl in the city, and there are not enough Runners to cope. Added to the general disarray is the construction of a new cell block at Bow Street, built over medieval plague pits. The construction is further delayed by the discovery of many bones of the plague victims, and the addition of the freshly dead body of a peer in the pit.What really interests Stephen is a boot found in the Thames with a severed human foot. Forbidden by Magistrate Reed to further investigate the boot, he and his favorite Horse Patrol officer look into the matter anyway.  Assigned to the surveillance of a discontented man who has been pestering Members of Parliament, Lavender wonders what can happen next when rumors reach his ear of a new criminal "mastermind" in the city. Can all these events be connected somehow?

The Detective Lavender Mysteries are favorites, and I always look forward to them. Loosely based on a real historical figure, Stephen Lavender was somewhat of a celebrity in his day. Stephen is not at all what one expects from a Bow Street Runner. Meticulous, educated, bookish and a bit introverted, he is an officer in a new mold. The supporting characters are extraordinarily well-drawn, especially Horse Patrol Officer, Ned Woods, his wife, Betsy, and their large family; and Magdalena's maid, Teresa. Plague Pits and River Bones is somewhat darker than preceding stories, with a "Moriarty" like character who is obsessed with Lavender and his wife. The slave trade (outlawed at the time) and assassination at the highest levels of government play a part in this story. Of course, there is Magdalena, a woman in a million! The environs of 1812 London are vividly described from the stench of St.Giles and the Thames, to the peaceful calm of Greenwich and the drawing rooms of the highest society.

I highly recommend Plague Pits and River Bones for those who enjoy historical mysteries. It is not necessary to read the series in order, but I do recommend starting with the first, The Heiress of Linn Hagh.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

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