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by Mary Lawrence
Kensington, December 2016
307 pages
ISBN: 1617737143

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The second in the Bianca Goddard series, DEATH AT ST. VEDAST is set in London in 1543, and to say that life is challenging is a bit of an understatement. Not only are the daily struggles of staying warm and putting food on the table more than many people can accomplish, there are also the political intrigues to negotiate between rival guilds and rival religions. And, of course, if you're an alchemist as Bianca Goddard is, you also have to avoid being labelled a witch. With what is obviously meticulous research and attention to detail, Mary Lawrence captures the atmosphere of the times and weaves a mystery that brings together unexpected elements and characters in a most satisfying manner.

Beginning with a beautifully rendered but ultimately horrifying scene, DEATH AT ST. VEDAST centers on the decay of what was once a beautiful church that has now been stripped of both artistic treasures and its power and is literally and metaphorically crumbling. Alchemist Bianca Goddard, her husband John, and her immortal cat have moved north of the Thames and into the neighborhood of St. Vedast, against Bianca's wishes but in order to further John's career, and Bianca is immediately drawn into the intrigue surrounding a death at the church. When her friend Odile dies shortly after her wedding ceremony in the church and John's friend and master Boisvert is accused of Odile's murder, both Bianca and John set out to solve the mystery of death and madness that seems to be engulfing the church and its congregants. The search takes them out of London to a nearby village, into the quarrels between Brown and White Bakers' guilds, and through the labyrinthine paths of changing church politics and guild powers. Bianca, while forbidden to practice her alchemy and potion-making in their new living quarters, does manage to find ways to conduct experiments that ultimately lead to the solution.

Lawrence's evident research is seamlessly woven into the telling of this tale, adding depth to the setting with both subtle references and detailed descriptions of the place and time. The mystery itself is intriguingly complicated, and the pacing is perfect as Bianca uncovers the secrets of all those involved while, at the same time, she and John further define their relationship. Perhaps most importantly, Bianca herself is a delightful character. She's smart, curious, and self-assured, making her someone you'll want to spend time with. The other characters, too, are well drawn, and the combination of plot, setting, and character is well balanced, with each element serving to improve the whole. The book works as an entry to the series, too, with some enticingóbut not spoilingóreferences to the previous novel (THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER) that make it easy to start with this novel but hard to resist going back to read the first one.

ß Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, December 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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