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by Hannah March
Signet, March 2003
272 pages
ISBN: 0451208803

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It is the fall of 1760; King George II is dead, his successor, George III, not yet crowned. On a coach entering London we meet Matthew Hemsley, a well-to- do young man in the company of his tutor, fresh from Norfolk and most eager to learn something of the great world. The tutor, Robert Fairfax, is uneasily aware that his likeable19 year-old charge is apt to be something of a handful - and that the lad's father is in no way inclined to wink at peccadilloes. The elder Hemsley has in fact provided them with a carefully planned itinerary of improving and educational activities to occupy their month's stay.

Within days, however, all plans go awry as young Matt is drawn with painful inevitability to the disreputable world of the theatre and is smitten by the fabulous Miss Lucy Dove, the toast of all London. He is fortunate enough to be able to do her a service and soon enough he and Fairfax are playing cards and drinking strong rum punch with her brother, a jovial sea captain presently without a ship. Fairfax feels events are slipping out of control but they take a much worse turn suddenly when Miss Dove is discovered dead - in the presence of a dazed and incoherent Matt. With Matt shut up in Newgate and due for a trip to Tyburn's gallows, Fairfax has little time to figure out - and prove! - who is actually responsible for the murder.

This is a perfectly splendid piece of work. The characters are richly interesting; even the minor ones, such as place-seeking Barrett Jervis, pathetic ex-funambulist Betsy Lavender, bitter intellectual Arabella Wilders, are more deftly drawn and three-dimensional than many a hero of lesser tales. The Georgian setting is very well presented; the reader feels truly present in the time and place. Period detail is always appropriate, one never gets the impression the author is merely exercising her research. Not least, the mystery itself is satisfying, well paced and well constructed; I for one did not guess the ending in advance.

This is the first of a series; I look forward with much pleasure to reading the next.

Reviewed by Diana Sandberg, January 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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