Kathy Lynn Emerson's series of Elizabethan mysteries featuring Susanna, Lady Appleton, just keeps getting better. In this, her fifth outing, the widowed Lady Appleton is enjoying the attentions of a new suitor when she learns that Constance Crane, her late husband's mistress, and Crane's elderly cousin, a former nun, have been jailed for the heinous crime of "bewitching" two men to death. Showing more nobility than good sense, perhaps, Susannah puts the ill- will of the past behind her and vows to help the two imprisoned gentlewomen, who will be executed if convicted.
It's soon clear to Susanna, herself an herbalist of some renown, that the victims died of poison, not witchcraft. With the help of her housekeeper, she solves the crime and names the villain. No big surprises are in store for the careful reader, but clues and solutions aren't the important thing about these clever, well-researched novels. Emerson has a deft hand with the details of the customs and costumes of the Elizabethan era, and brings history to life with a light touch. Lady Appleton gets more interesting as she gets older, and her autonomy and audacity will win the reader's heart. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
This workmanlike historical of witchcraft, murder and greed, the fifth in the series (after Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross), begins slowly but ends with an exciting rush. Shortly after Elizabeth I returns her realm to Protestantism from Mary I's brief period of Catholicism, witches are blamed for strange happenings, especially deaths. One "witch" accused of murder is Constance Crane, who was once the mistress of Sir Robert Appleton, the late husband of our sleuthing heroine, Susanna, Lady Appleton. Constance writes Susanna for help, but the message goes astray. Not until Susanna arrives at Maidstone's Assizes with her lover and suitor, Nick Baldwin, does she learn that Constance is in trouble. Susanna immediately suspects the victim was poisoned, but the only way she can save Constance from hanging is to find the true killer. Aided by Nick and by her servant and companion, the faithful Jennet, Susanna uncovers a plot to gain vast wealth through a forgotten will and the canceled vow of a former nun. While Emerson creates an Elizabethan atmosphere by using archaic words (mazer, morphew, etc.) and describing plants and herbal remedies, her work isn't in the same league as that of such seasoned historical writers as Michael Jecks and Peter Tremayne. It's too easy to substitute drug trafficking for witchcraft, cell phones for messengers and cars for horses to imagine the story as a contemporary thriller. (Dec. 7)
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