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Storylandia Issue 10: Death Among The Marshes - A Murder Mystery Set in the Twenties Paperback – June 6, 2013
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About the Author
Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with two aging and chronically ill cats. As well as being the author of numerous short stories, novellas, and essays, she is the author of “Maiden in Light” and “The Wizard’s Son,” novels set on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period. Both are part of an intended series of fantasy novels that mostly take place in a dukedom called the Northlands, a part of the Norman Empire that roughly covers the north-eastern U.S. Her website is at www.klr.wapshottpress.com
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As with the detective the reader may well resort to a notebook to make sense of the complicated relationships and possible motives of the actors in this story. The title refers not to the fenland of Norfolk as one might expect but to the extended family of Marshes, one of whom – Bertie – has been murdered. We soon meet an assortment of cousins, fourteen in all, most of whom can be reliably placed on a family tree, and various parents, uncles and aunts. Frederick Babington takes it on himself to discover the circumstances of Bertie’s death in parallel with the police investigation. He of course finds himself compromised: he was a childhood playmate to most of his cousins, and naturally feels loyalty towards the family. As Inspector Deffords says, “the most frustrating part of investigating a murder among a close group of people [is] no one will tell you anything. They’re all concerned with protecting each other.” But because of the war and the years since he last saw them Freddie starts to doubt each individual’s motives, alibis and, worryingly, innocence.
Freddie is also affected by the fact that Bertie has died at the same spot of the river where his own parents drowned, and is troubled by the spectre of history repeating itself. But he has also to allow for slowly changing attitudes with regard to master-servant relationships (contemporaries find his easy social manner with Billy curious), philandering (women’s status had started to change for the better with the social upheaval occasioned by war) and homosexuality (this was barely more than a quarter-century after the Oscar Wilde trials). Kathryn Ramage’s novella is an intelligent work that perfectly captures the manners, language and attitudes of the period while sustaining the usual expectations for a murder mystery. It’s also carefully structured and detailed so that it’s possible to draw up reasonably accurate maps, plans, timetable and family relationships if one has a mind to treat it as more than a casual read. All in all I found this a convincing work, neither a pastiche nor a parody of its models; and in Freddie Babington, with his faithful friend Billy Watkins, we have an amateur sleuth with a tortured history and a decent character who — dare one hope? — deserves further outings.
The only clue that the author isn’t British is the use of “huff” as a verb: this Americanism doesn’t quite convey what the phrase “in a huff” implies but rather suggests audibly giving a heavy sigh or even a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders. She has however avoided the lazy cliché that lesser writers frequently don’t of prefixing upper class interjections with “I say!” for which we must be grateful.