"It was a particularly handsome, particularly English summer's day, and the Sussex countryside was full of the pleasing and fruitful colors of the season."
That day in June 1780 started off nicely enough, but then a corpse turned up in a thicket on Commodore and Harriet Westerman's estate, and it put a dark mood over the entire village. It is discovered that in the man's hand was a ring bearing the crest of nearby Thornleigh Hall. The once-grand Hall sits regally over the picturesque rural community. The current earl's health is fast failing, and Alexander, the eldest son --- the one in line to succeed him --- left long ago. As he departed, he cautioned his brother, Hugh: Get away from this place and that man.
Hugh Thornleigh went off to be a soldier and made a bit of a name for himself in the American Revolution. Unfortunately, he also made a deadly mistake. His past will haunt him to the end of his days. Getting away from Thornleigh Hall is no longer an option.
So who was this dead man? Maybe some drifter passing through, unlucky enough to have been chased down by a vicious thief. But then why not take the ring? The entire scene appears to be a senseless tragedy. Since the body was found on her estate, Harriet wants answers. To aid her, she turns to a local eccentric named Gabriel Crowther, who is also known to be an anatomist. His understanding of the human body makes him a choice partner for Harriet in her quest to solve the mystery.
Meanwhile, in London, the clash between the Protestants and the Catholics rages on, adding more obstacles to overcome than killers afoot. As the inflamed crowds riot in the streets, plunging the city into chaos, a man named Alexander Adams is stabbed to death in his shop as his children look on in horror. Was this a robbery gone wrong, a religious statement, or did someone target Alexander specifically?
Back in the countryside, another suspicious death occurs as Harriet and Gabriel struggle to fit the pieces of the puzzle into place. This little village has never seen so many bodies in so short a time. Something evil has to be going on. In the days before forensic science has been given any serious consideration, Gabriel does a smashing job of interpreting the clues presented to him, and leading everyone ultimately to the true conclusion. What one man set in motion many years ago now costs several innocent people their lives.
Switching from Sussex to London and back to America during its early war, debut novelist Imogen Robertson keeps her readers on their toes, slowly bringing the stories together. There is a lot of action between the various murders, the English countryside, a besieged London, and the American battlefields. Historical mystery lovers will be pleased.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on March 28, 2011