Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
By Susanna Calkins
St. Martin’s Press, March 2014

About the Book

In Susanna Calkins’s atmospheric debut novel, a chambermaid must uncover a murderer in seventeenth-century plague-ridden London

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime. In a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill them first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never see this person alive again. Unless, that is, she can identify the true murderer.

Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.

My Review

Calkins’ debut novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, introduces Lucy Campion, serving girl to a London magistrate in 1665. Intellectually curious, trustworthy, and well educated for her position, Lucy happily serves her master who takes an interest in her keen mind and opinions. The household is an unusually pleasant place for both the servants and those they serve (think Downtown Abbey). It includes the magistrate and his wife, their son Adam, their ward Lucas, who is destined for a career in the church, and a close knit group of servants.

One morning, the household is awakened by a constable at the magistrate’s door who comes to inform him of two murders, both young ladies lured to lonely areas and brutally stabbed. It isn’t long before Bessie, the ladies’ maid of the household, also disappears, this time with all her clothes and the master’s silver in tow.

Lucy is devastated by the loss of her close friend and becomes even more distraught when Lucy’s brother Will, Bessie’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, is charged with the murder. Lucy vows to do all she can to find Bessie’s killer and prove her brother’s innocence, and she gains the help of an unlikely ally along the way, Adam. Adam is a barrister in training and someone who has taken an interest in Lucy’s sharp mind and pretty face. Uneasy about the mutual attraction between them, but finding few other allies, Adam and Lucy work together to exonerate her brother and uncover the killer as both the plague and The Great Fire of London threaten their progress.

The details woven into the tale by Calkins give her readers a rich portrait of life in seventeenth-century London. The Great Fire of London, the plague, and a comprehensive look into the legal system of the time all work together to put the story on solid ground. It is easy to identify with Lucy’s dilemma as one who is smart and ambitious but is nonetheless trapped by her station within society.

I was rather disappointed when the killer was ultimately unmasked. Without providing a spoiler, this type of person is quite often assigned the role of murderer in mysteries, so it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the killer beforehand. I would have liked to see a more unlikely person be identified as the culprit. But Lucy is a plucky, entertaining character, and since the sequel to this book, From the Charred Remains, is being published April 22nd I look forward to reading what adventures Lucy will be up to next.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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