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by Karen Harper
Dell, February 2003
350 pages
ISBN: 0440235952

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Katherine Ashley has been with Queen Elizabeth for 25 years. Kat was the first governess Elizabeth had after her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been executed. Now Kat, First Lady of the Bedchamber and Mistress of the Robes, is ill and the men of the Royal College of Physicians are unavailable because they have gone to Cambridge for a meeting. Elizabeth must depend on a physician from the continent to save Katıs life. Kat does make a recovery, but Queen Elizabeth is less than happy with the Royal College of Physicians. Not only were they unavailable when Kat was ill, but they had refused twice to make a royal visit. Elizabeth feels the men heading the College are stuck in the past, politically and medically, and she decides to make an unannounced visit to them. On returning to her coach after her less than satisfactory meeting with the physicians, she is startled to find an effigy of herself in the coach and the effigy looks as if it is covered with small pox. Believing the effigy is meant to intimidate and threaten her, she returns to the palace where she calls a meeting of her Privy Plot Council (William Cecil, her principal secretary; Jenks, a soldier; Lord Hunsdon, her cousin; Ned Topside, her chief fool and eyes and ears about the court; Kat Ashley; and Gil Sharpe, a young artist). The young queen begins her search for the person involved, a search that will include investigating the grisly murder of a young girl and an action packed romp to the terrifying climax of this tale.

With deft writing and skillful plotting, Karen Harper once again brings Elizabethan England to life. As in the previous three Elizabeth I mysteries, Harper has taken actual events in the life of the queen and built a fictional mystery around them. In this case, in 1562 a wax effigy of the queen was found and in the same year, the queen nearly died of small pox. The brilliant Elizabeth is an excitingly complex heroine and she makes a grand sleuth. The characters making up the Privy Plot Council each have their own stories to tell. Harper writes good history as well as a good mystery. She gives us a look at medical practices in the 16th century, the political intrigue Elizabeth dealt with, and the back alleys and shops in London. This depth of detail of behavior, setting and personalities enriches the story.

For those who have not read one of the Elizabeth mysteries, this is not the place to start. Some history about the characters making up the Privy Plot Council is needed to help keep the over abundance of characters in this tale in place. I recommend this series to historical mystery readers.

Reviewed by Lane Wright, March 2003

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