Sunday, July 9, 2023

A Very Surprising Find


Rachel Savernake #3
Martin Edwards
Poison Pen Press
August 1, 2023

As a lifetime reader of murder mysteries, especially British crime, I know of Martin Edwards. Edwards is the foremost expert on British Golden-age mysteries with many books, stories, prefaces, and non-fiction to his credit. To my knowledge, I had never read one of his novels, so when The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge popped up on NetGalley, with this fabulous cover, I jumped on it. 

Disheveled, heavy drinker and smoker Nell Fagan is "on her uppers," having lost her last reporting job, and is looking for a big scoop. She thinks she has found it when Vernon Baker asks her to look into his mother's death. She had married a much younger man who drove a wedge between mother and son. Vernon next knew that she had gone to a sanitarium for some rest in Yorkshire and died there. Vernon asks her to investigate the place, Blackstone Lodge. Having burned her bridges with just about everyone, Nell heads up to Blackstone Fell. She finds an odd and dreary place with a dangerous landscape. People go missing, never to be seen again; one in 1606 and one in 1906, most famously. When Vernon Baker is killed in London due to an "accident,." Nell returns to London to consult with Rachel Savernake.

Rachel Savernake is a wealthy young woman, the daughter of a notorious "hanging judge" in London. Evidently, the judge went bonkers after his wife died, taking his young daughter to grow up on the isolated island of Gaunt. Not surprisingly, when the judge died, Rachel headed back to London with her small band of one housekeeper, one maid, and a man of all work. All three are devoted to her. She is a mystery to everyone except her staff. She does have a hobby, solving grisly murders, which has given her fame and the police fits. Even in 1932-ish, the police did not approve of women solving crimes. Especially Rachel, who is coldly analytical, giving nothing away. When Nell returns to Blackstone Fell and promptly goes missing herself from the exact location where others have gone before her, Rachel rents a cottage and follows behind. Blackstone Fell is a seething mass of gossip, bad blood, and extra-marital activity. The Vicar himself is a wife-abusing zealot. There are plenty of bad actors to go around.

Following Rachel and Nell is Jacob Flint, a fellow reporter with Nell who has been involved with earlier investigations. Jacob seems genuine enough, but who knows in this group of characters? Rachel herself and her loyal band of employees are the main attractions. Rachel is mysterious to the nth degree and not at all likable. No doubt, it would help to read the previous two books, which I plan to start right away.

The Puzzle of Blackwood Lodge is atmospheric, masterfully plotted, and totally fascinating. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for an advance digital copy.

5 Stars