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A Murder at Rosamund's Gate: A Mystery (Lucy Campion Mysteries Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A great pounding at the door startled the chambermaid bending to light the morning hearth. Jerking upright, Lucy Campion swore softly as a bit of hot beeswax stung her wrist. Slapping the taper on the mantel, she sneaked a glance over her shoulder. She could hear Bessie and Cook rattling pots in the kitchen, but the rest of the magistrate’s household was still. Her muttered oath had not carried. Though theirs was not a stringent Puritan family, the magistrate frowned on ill language, and Lucy always took care not to annoy him.
Lucy was feeling out of sorts, though, having been awakened an hour too early—not to the usual sound of roosters crowing but instead to their frantic squealing. Local boys had been casting stones at the witless birds, all mercilessly shackled to wooden stakes on the street outside her window. Although the Church officially did not condone such activities, the community accepted that boys would have their fun. Fortunately only the servants, light sleepers that they all were, had been awakened by the disturbance. The rest of the household, the magistrate’s family, had slept blissfully on.
Now, tugging her skirts into place, Lucy moved across the long wooden floor into the great hall. Who could be calling? Deliveries from the haberdasher or the vintner usually were made at the kitchen entrance, and no decent visitor would call before the family had broken their morning fast.
As Lucy swung open the heavy oak door, her scolding words withered on her lips. Instead of a journeyman plying his trade, a straight-backed man in uniform regarded her sternly. Lucy recognized his red coat and insignia immediately. He was one of King Charles’s own men. Although Redcoats were a common enough sight throughout London, a soldier at the stoop, even at the magistrate’s household, disquieted her. Ever since she was a child, soldiers had filled her with unease.
He spoke without preamble. “I’m Duncan, the new constable. I must speak with the magistrate at once.”
Youthful mischief, no doubt. The boys had probably caused some damage with their early-morning antics. Lucy took a deep breath. “Of course, sir. I’ll fetch my master. Pray, warm yourself by the fire.”
Inside, Lucy saw the constable’s otherwise set face twitch in appreciation. The magistrate’s home was fine enough, it was true. The place was not quite so decorated as some, for the master had a mean practical streak and would not let his wife furnish as lavishly as she would like. Still, it had a pleasing elegance that well suited the master and his family. The house had three floors, with the living quarters on the first floor, the sleeping chambers on the second, and the maids’ cramped quarters on the very top floor. John, the master’s servant, slept with Cook, his wife, in the tiny niche behind the kitchen hearth, among the potatoes and onions. How they fit, Lucy had often wondered, as John was a great burly man and Cook an ample woman herself.
Even as she turned to locate John, the master himself appeared. He could have been in full magisterial garb instead of a simple sleeping gown, so dignified was his bearing. This morning, the habitual twinkling of his eye and rueful grin were missing, replaced by the slightest of frowns. He summoned the constable to his private chamber, and they disappeared down the hallway.
Bessie came from the kitchen then, her blue eyes wide, having passed the constable in the corridor. Like Lucy, she had been awake for some time, tending to the early-morning duties of the household.
Two years older than Lucy, Bessie was a farm girl from Lambeth hired by the master at a Michaelmas hiring fair some five years back. Before coming to the Hargraves, Bessie had been a nursery maid in a “family of quality,” tending to three small children. As she had confided to Lucy once, however, the master grabbed at her more than the tots did, and she was nearly thrown out when the mistress discovered her husband’s sneaking ways. She was in that household two years before ending her contract with the family. Bessie had quickly found the Hargraves’ household to her liking, just as Lucy did later. Master Hargrave paid well, son and father treated her courteously, and the mistress was not jealous of her pleasing ways.
Now Bessie giggled, revealing a large gap in her mouth where her tooth had cracked some years before. “So handsome, isn’t he?” she whispered. “I just love the gold on the constable’s red coat. I’ve never seen him before, though. Have you? I wonder where he came from.”
“I don’t know. Maybe Yorkshire?” Lucy guessed, for the soldier’s voice reminded her a bit of a distant cousin she had met once. But who could know? After King Charles was restored to the throne, he had dispersed many of his men throughout England, Ireland, and Wales, to help restore order. Likely as not, the soldier was far from his childhood home.
Cook soon swatted Bessie. “You’d best be getting to your chores and forget that constable. It’s not likely he brings good tidings at this hour,” she said, her pockmarked face growing impish. She winked at Lucy. “’Twould be best if you kept your mind on good honest boys like my Samuel.”
Bessie flounced off to tend to the mistress, her curls bouncing beneath her cap. Lucy hid a smile. Bessie despised Samuel, a stocky lad of fourteen years who as a child used to pull her curls with sticky fingers, and who now would pinch her rear when out of his mother’s sight. Thankfully, they saw him only rarely these days, for he had lately begun work as a fishmonger in Leadenhall.
Regarding the closed study door, Lucy wondered what business had brought the constable to the magistrate at such an hour. This was not altogether unusual, to be sure, since the magistrate often had constables and the like stopping by the household, but the grim set to this soldier’s jaw made her especially curious.
After a half hour, the constable left, and Lucy brought out the master’s breakfast to the dining room. There, the master downed his kippers and bread with a bit of wine, not lingering long, preferring to remain in his study until the noon meal. A member of the King’s Bench before the war, and a magistrate since Charles II’s return, he was beginning to write his memoirs when the assize courts were not in session. Lucy watched him closely. If he was bothered by the news Constable Duncan had brought, he hid it well.
* * *
Lucy’s curiosity about the stranger faded as she spent the next hour emptying chamber pots into the cesspit and shaking out rush mats on the stones outside the stoop. These heavy tasks numbed her fingers and made the sweat run down the back of her woolen dress. She had received the dress when she first entered service with the Hargraves two years before, when her dear mother had come down with consumption. When she bent over now, she realized anew how the dress was pulling across her front, although not as tightly as it had on Bessie, who had worn the dress before her.
Lucy was just starting to rub the pewter with marestail, a plant that smelled and turned her fingers green, when Cook called her into the kitchen. “Where’s your pocket?” she asked Lucy, taking down an old stone jar from an alcove above the cutting bench. “We’ve got guests for supper, and I need some ox tongue, coffee, and eggs from the market.” She counted out a few coins and handed them to Lucy.
“Don’t pay more than six shillings, you hear me?”
“Oh, yes!” Lucy said, dropping the coins carefully in the pocket she kept hidden beneath her skirts. The promise of the unexpected jaunt made her fairly dance down the front path, despite the chill in the air.
As she opened the gate, someone called to her from the doorway. “Hold on a moment, Lucy.” It was Adam, the magistrate’s son. “I’ll accompany you to market.”
“Sir?” she asked. She did not know the magistrate’s son very well. He’d been at Cambridge for the last few years and had only just returned to the household three weeks ago to finish up his studies in law at the Inns of Court. Unlike Sarah, the magistrate’s daughter, and Lucas, the magistrate’s ward, Adam always heeded the difference in their relative stations. He treated Lucy and the other servants courteously but never teased them in the playful way he did his sister and Lucas. Certainly he’d never volunteered to walk her into town.
“’Tis no day for a lass to be traveling alone.” He started down the narrow cobblestone path. Seeing that she was still standing there, he tilted his head at her. “Coming?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, scrambling to keep up with his lanky pace.
A moment later they passed the cocks Lucy had heard that morning. Now they were battered, plucked, and no longer squawking. Mercifully, the birds were all dead, and their youthful tormentors had long fled. Some of their neighbors were cutting them off the stakes to pop into their kettles. Adam frowned but didn’t say anything.
“Yoo-hoo, Lucy!” one of the neighbors called, elbowing another servant in the ribs. It was Janey, the most miserable gossip on the street. “Where are you off to?”
“Market,” Lucy responded through gritted teeth, trying not to flush at Janey’s knowing smirk. She’d already been treated to Janey’s vile opinions about what the gentry believed was their due. Seeing Lucy with the magistrate’s son would certainly fuel the morning’s gossip. Lucy shook her basket at her. “See?” With that, Lucy picked up her step, Adam matching her easily. Soon they were beyond sight of their neigh...
- ASIN : B008RLTZBO
- Publisher : Minotaur Books (April 23, 2013)
- Publication date : April 23, 2013
- Language : English
- File size : 731 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 351 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #655,430 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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One of the aspects of the book that I truly enjoyed was seeing Lucy go from a simple servant (who had taught herself to read) to a complex, critical thinker who was learning a bit about the law. If the whole book had been as compelling as the second half, I would have given it 5 stars. Very well done!
And I thought it a little odd that the author used terms like "yuck" and "funk" -- these really yanked me out of the reading experience. In the afterword, she comments on her departure from language of the period, but I thought, "Why do it at all? Calkins didn't need to throw in these modern words - not sure why she did." Nonetheless, I found the book entertaining and readable.
Slight problems: One red herring was left without resolution; the plague scenes were probably depicted as far more mild than their horrific reality; and the probable murderer was apparent to me early on because he wasn't very often mentioned or particularly characterized until the big reveal. The murder that's central to the mystery doesn't happen until almost halfway through the book.
Pluses: The prison and trial scenes seemed well-researched and were vividly described, and not at all trite or cliché. In fact, the trial testimonies were a surprise. Two men who might have been killers, were left to perhaps be the killer in a future book in the series. The writing style is clear and very easy to read. The copyediting and proofreading were impeccable (always important points for me).
Another reviewer mentioned the benevolent master-servant relationship as unbelievable, but in that period, masters were obligated to be responsible and accountable before God for the morals and education of not only their family, but the servants, day laborers, and apprentices under them. That's not to say that every master was "good," but it's what was ideal under Calvinist thought. The author got it right. (How do I know? Extensive research for my own 17th-century novels.)
The author was very sparing and neutral about depicting religion of the time, but religion was at the top of everyone's mind in an era of war, plagues, extreme poverty, signs in the heavens (comets, eclipses, catastrophic storms), and other remarkable events. Whether or not they practiced their "thou-shalt-nots," everyone was conscious of eternal life or hellfire. Religion wasn't one of the themes in this book, only a color in the backdrop.
In Amazon's 5-star rating system, I'd prefer to give it a 4.5, but will round up to 5 because the problems were very slight. It's an enjoyable read.
Suitable for younger teens through adults. Genre: mystery, light romance, historical fiction (17th century), England.
Top reviews from other countries
The story centers around a young serving girl named Lucy, who works for a very goodly sort of magistrate's family. She is fortunate to be in such a good situation and has fairly good life for her station, being allowed to learn to read, discuss her thoughts and opinions with the master of the house. Yet, she still seems to long for more in life than just the lot of a servant. She becomes involved in a murder within her own household that she discovered also appears to be connected to other recent murders, and affects some of those closest to her. While attempting to investigate this herself, she also has to deal with the 1665 outbreak of the Plague and the 1666 Great Fire of London going on around her. The ending, being a bit of a surprise, was not the usual predictable wrap-up and resolution and it clearly leaves things open for the next book in the series. I don't mean a cliff hanger, but just the knowledge that clearly more is to come for Lucy's future.
I have read many of this sort of mystery story before, but what put this on my favourite book list of the past year or so, besides the extremely interesting details of day to day life blended with the mystery, is that the characters were so likeable. I really wanted to know more of them. Even many of the more flawed characters all had something you could like, or at least empathize with. Sure there were one or two with no apparent redeeming qualities, but in the context of the story, you could understand why they were like they were. I quite enjoyed the authors writing style. I stayed up late to finish it and did not find myself bored or skimming over any part of it (which I often tend to do in places, even in some of my better novels)
Also this novel was not overly graphic. Just the right amount to appeal to a wide range of readers' tastes. I recommended it both to my teenager and to my mother to read. It has a touch of romance, a touch of grittiness in detail where needed. I think it will neither offend those who don't want major violence or sex scenes, and it won't bore those who want a bit more than your basic safe, cozy mysteries.
The only real thing I have to whine about is that I hate it when I discover a new author I really like at the very beginning of her series. Now I have to wait a while for book two. I much prefer to find a "new to me" author who has several books already published so I can devour them all back-to-back. Oh well, I suspect the wait will be well worth it.