A Mortal Curiosity
St. Martin’s, Aug 2008, $24.95
In 1864, Aunt Parry obtains a position of temporary companion for her almost thirty year old by marriage niece Elizabeth “Lizzie” Martin. Clipper ship owner Charles Roche is worried about his teenage niece Lucy Craven whose husband is in China on family business while she recovers from having given birth only to have her baby die a couple of days later. Currently Lucy is staying with her much older spinster Aunts Miss Christina and Miss Phoebe. He also sends his friend Dr. Lefebre, an observant alienist, to check on the emotional well being of the distraught Lucy whose aunts insist she is deranged.
At the Shore House in New Forest in Hampshire, Dr, Lefebre is welcomed by the aunts as a special guest while they literally look down their respective noses at Lizzie, who makes it clear she is unafraid to speak her mind though to herself she admits it looks silly as the two aunts are well over a head taller than her. Still she makes it clear that she is there as Lucy’s companion. As a gentleman farmer seems to be courting the married Lucy, someone murders the traveling rat catcher Jethro Brennan. Worried for Lucy’s safety as well as her own, Lizzie sends for her boyfriend, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Benjamin Ross; he drops everything to come immediately.
Readers will feel they are in Victorian England mostly by the sea away from London as Ann Granger provides a vivid look into the manners of a bygone era. The murder mystery comes deep into the tale turning the story line smoothly from a historical novel into a police procedural with a superb final twist that reminds the audience it is 1864 Hampshire (though some will insist it could be 2008 DC with the last spin). Mostly told from Elizabeth’s perspective, fans of the period will appreciate this fine mid ninetieth century English whodunit.