Jane and the Genius of the Place – Stephanie Barron

6d766dcc6677d645939536e5a77434f414f4141In this book, Jane is staying at her brother Edward’s estate in Kent (which he has because he was adopted by a wealthy, childless couple – this is real life detail). While there, they go to the races, where the wife of one of the other local landowners is found dead. Mrs. Grey had not been well liked in the neighborhood – she was French, and Napoleon was poised just across the Channel, making plans to invade. Still, Edward is the local magistrate, and is obligated to the investigate. And as we all know from the previous three books in this series, Jane is not a bad investigator herself, so naturally helps.

This ends up being a really interesting commentary on womens’ lives in Regency England, mixed up with the politics of the war, and with a bit of landscape gardening thrown in for good measure. How the murder ends up working into that ends up being very interesting – I will admit I hadn’t figured it out before the reveal.

These books are definitely anachronistic, but fun enough that I don’t mind.

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The Rose Rent – Ellis Peters

2b9bf2c836e179e59746e366667434f414f4141The young widow Perle had donated the house where she had lived happily with her husband to the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. She had no need of it – she was also the heiress to one of the foremost weaving families in Shrewsbury, and could live in her family home, away from her memories. She asked only for a single white rose from a bush in the yard as rent.

It’s been a late year for all plants, but the rose comes ready to bloom just in time for the rent payment, only the young monk in charge of paying the rent is found dead beside the rosebush. It’s no secret that several men would like to marry the young widow (and gain her substantial dowry), and it’s up to Brother Cadfael to figure out which one of these men is the murderer.

This is a surprisingly quick tale, perhaps because it plays out at a truly local level, unlike some of the other stories in this series. It’s a great ending – way more interesting than you would think from the initial set up.

Lord Darcy – Randall Garrett

70e1f63cbd8f17159756a756a67434f414f4141This is an omnibus of three books of mostly short stories about Lord Darcy, the chief investigator for Prince Richard, Duke of Normandy, in an alternate world where King Richard the Lion-Heart survived the cross bow attack that killed him in our world. His family is still in charge of an Angevin empire that includes a good chunk of Europe, as well as North and South America.

The books were written in the 60s and 70s, so are set in that timeframe, but it’s a timeframe where science didn’t really go anywhere, and magic is the norm instead. Lord Darcy works with a sorcerer, Sean O’Lochlainn, who’s basically his walking forensics lab. Darcy’s absolutely brilliant, and usually knows who’s done it – it’s just a matter of getting the evidence.

I really enjoyed these books. That they’re mostly short stories was a bonus – it allowed a pretty wide variety of cases. Things were really well plotted, and just really interesting. I think they’ve also aged pretty well – they’re not particularly of their time, so it’s easy to just drop in. My only complaint is that I’m not sure why we had to be reminded every single time he entered that Sean is “tubby”.

Jane and the Wandering Eye – Stephanie Barron

380c536451d9019597937685977434f414f4141Jane is back in Bath, absolutely not enjoying herself, and is more than happy to accept a commission from Lord Harold Trowbridge to keep an eye on his niece, the Lady Desdemona. At a party given by Mona’s grandmother, a shocking murder occurs, drawing Jane into the world of the Bath theatre.

Yes, this is Jane Austen solving mysteries. And it’s completely anachronistic. (At least in this book, her family starts commenting that she’s spending a bit too much time in some rather unladylike pursuits.) But it’s all good fun, and other than Jane not really being Jane, the author layers in a lot of other interesting historical flavor.

The Raven in the Foregate – Ellis Peters

d73c161c49fcab75939617a5767434f414f4141The priest of the lay parish attached to the Abbey has died, and when the Abbot returns from a meeting of the English church fathers, he brings a replacement with him. Father Ailnoth brings with him a housekeeper and her nephew, a young lad who’s quickly volunteered for help for Brother Cadfael.

The old priest, Father Adam, had been beloved by his parishioners, having his finger right on the pulse of exactly how hard to push his parishioners when they had sinned, but not going overboard with punishment. Father Ailnoth is not that kind, and quickly alienates the entire parish. On Christmas night, before services, Cadfael sees him leave the church to head into town, and he’s never seen alive again. There are too many suspects- including his housekeeper’s nephew, who clearly has a much more interesting background than originally presented.

There is an interesting twist to perpetrator of this crime – I will fully admit I did’t see it coming. Other than that, this didn’t feel like a particular original story compared the others that came before. There definitely seemed to be a combination of elements of other stories that came together to make this one. It’s not bad because of this, just not one of my favorites. (I probably partially feel this way because the last book has a very interesting central plot, and this one just can’t compare.)

An Excellent Mystery – Ellis Peters

dc5a85894c45fdf593255635267434f414f4141This Brother Cadfael book actually isn’t about a murder, for a change.

After Winchester was sacked as part of the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, the brothers of the Benedictine monastery there have scattered to neighboring monasteries. Brothers Humilis and Fidelis have come to Shrewsbury, which is near where Brother Humilis was born. Before he became a brother, he was a crusader, and a wound from his time then will be the death of him, and probably soon. It’s his last wish to return to the place of his birth.

His former lieutenant, Nicholas Harnage, comes to find Humilis. It was Nicholas that had to break the word to the girl that Humilis was to marry that he was a broken man, and would be unable to wed. Nicholas has never forgotten the girl, and three years later, has come to find Humilis to ask his permission to pursue this girl, if she is not yet wed. Humilis has no objections, so Nicholas rides to her family home, which is also near Shrewsbury. And there, he uncovers a mystery, for Julian Cruce supposedly took the veil shortly after her engagement was ended, but no one at the nunnery she supposedly entered has ever heard of her.

What follows is a story all about fidelity. If you’re paying attention, it’s not long a true mystery – what the real mystery is is how everything that has happened to a number of people will be resolved, and I very much enjoyed that story.

The Pilgrim of Hate – Ellis Peters

95e514747efe615597061796a67434f414f4141Here’s a Brother Cadfael book where the murder doesn’t occur in Shrewsbury (which is probably a good thing – all those murders in one town can’t be that good for civic moral).

At the same time as the festival of the Translation of Saint Winifred to the monastery, while pilgrims are arriving, the Abbot is returning from London, where a shocking murder of a partisan of the Empress Maud has shaken both sides of the Civil War. It’s only known that the killer was a young man, and that he may have headed in the general direction of the Shrewbury.

Naturally, he does come through Shrewsbury, and Brother Cadfael helps solve the crime, but this is a also a story about Brother Cadfael. The first book of this series was when the monks went to Wales to fetch Saint Winifred, and it was Brother Cadfael who ended up leaving her in Wales, substituting another body into the casket they transported. He believes she approved of this choice, and is still watching over them, but he would like some sort of sign that he did the right thing. And into this story returns his son, who he met several books ago, and does not know that Cadfael is his father. He is able to see Olivier again, and even tell his friend Hugh that he does have a son, even though he never intends to tell Olivier. And thus ends this book – feeling very much a transitional story, but still very enjoyable.