Amy Myers is known for her short stories and historical novels featuring Victorian chef Auguste Didier and chimney sweep Tom Wasp. Her contemporary series features classic car detective Jack Colby, and she is currently working on a new 1920s mystery series featuring Nell Drury, chef at Kent’s Wychbourne Court.
I was new to this series, set in the 1720s and featuring the memorable Thomas Hawkins as sleuth. A Death at Fountains Abbey is the third, and judging by the back story it reveals the first two in the series must be equally as readable as this historical thriller.
In this current novel, Thomas has narrowly escaped a gruesome end on the gallows and has been charged by Queen Caroline with a very special mission, a mission he is no position to refuse. Ostensibly he is being sent to Yorkshire to answer the plea for help sent to her majesty by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, disgraced for his connection with the South Sea Bubble scandal [and now fearing for his life after a threat of murder]. The Queen however has a problem of her own. The ex-Chancellor and Thomas’s host at Studley Hall, John Aislabie, is much disliked locally, but he has a sad history. The novel opens dramatically with a fire twenty-seven years earlier at his home in London’s Red Lion Square. It had been started by his mistress Molly but in it Aislabie’s wife and one of his daughters died. Aislabie has married again but still mourns the loss of the daughter. But is she really dead?
Thomas, accompanied by his (almost) wife Kitty and Sam Fleet, a fourteen year old streetwise boy who is under his protection, walks straight into the heart of the dark underworld threatening to engulf John Aislabie. He is caught up in a seemingly impenetrable web of intrigue and violence as he tries to disentangle the threats to Aislabie both from outside and inside his own household.
The novel is based partly on real places, people and events, and the pace cracks along, chiefly narrated by Hawkins himself. Perhaps because of the pace, however, it reads less like a historical novel set in the early eighteenth century, than a contemporary thriller.
May the character of Thomas Hawkins gallop onwards to solve more cases, as his adventure at Fountains Abbey is so engaging.