Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: The Body in the Ice

A. J. MackenzieThe Body in the Ice (The Romney Marsh Mysteries)
By A. J. MacKenzie
Zaffre, April 20, 2017

About the Book

Christmas Day, Kent, 1796. On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon, and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor’s attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

The Body in the Ice, with its unique cast of characters, captivating amateur sleuths and a bitter family feud at its heart, is a twisting tale that vividly brings to life eighteenth-century Kent and draws readers into its pages.

My Review

I received a PDF of The Body in the Ice for review and thoroughly enjoyed the story. It releases today in both ebook and hardback editions.

The story’s setting has all the charm readers want in an 18th century English murder mystery. Romney Marsh, on the English coast directly across the Channel from France, is a hotbed of smuggling and French spies as one would expect at this period, which enhances the story’s dark feel and plot complications. The historical details of the period are nicely incorporated, and I appreciated the maps and diagrams at the front of the book that help the reader to envision the lay of the land. A complex network of relationships pulls readers into the story, but also conceals dangerous deceptions and intrigue.

The main character is Reverend Hardcastle, although I didn’t realize that at first. Because Chapter 1 is in Amelia Chaytor’s point of view, I expected her to be the main character and amateur sleuth and was initially disappointed when I realized that she’s for the most part peripheral to the action, at least in this volume. There were several instances of head hopping in the first few chapters as well, mainly to describe Mrs. Chaytor through others’ thoughts. Surprisingly, she remains somewhat enigmatic as what we learn about her is more often through the descriptions of others than through to her own actions and thoughts. In one instance she receives what I would think to be important information but neglects to tell Hardcastle, inexplicably waiting to inform him until he drops by her house days later. This is balanced later by a couple of well done scenes of heart-pounding action in which she acts with a deliberation and determination that live up to other characters’ estimation of her.

These minor objections were easy to overlook due to the story’s strength. I like that both Hardcastle and Amelia are dealing with personal issues that make them appealingly vulnerable. The secondary characters are nicely portrayed with realistic plights and motivations as well. The Body in the Ice is an intriguing murder mystery full of twists and turns that kept me turning pages, wondering what happens next.

According to Amazon, A. J. MacKenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, a married couple who’ve written more than 20 nonfiction and academic titles between them, including works on management, medieval economic history, and medieval warfare. Both The Body in the Ice and the previous volume The Body on the Doorstep (2016), are subtitled “A dark and compelling historical murder mystery.” The series name for book 1 is listed as A Hardcastle and Chaytor Mystery, however, so evidently the series name has changed to Romney Marsh Mysteries. Judging from The Body in the Ice, this series will appeal greatly to fans of both historical fiction and mysteries, and I highly recommend it. I’ll be looking forward to further installments.

J. M. Hochstetler

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