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by Karen Harper
St Martin's Minotaur, December 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 0312338856

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The term THE FATAL FASHIONE has several meanings as it is tossed around in this eighth installment of the Elizabeth I mystery series. Elizabeth's ministers are decrying her 'fatal fashion' of remaining unwed, while she returns the favor by reminding them that meddling in the marital affairs of a Tudor can be a very fatal thing indeed.

The most fatal of fashions, though, is the fad for starched ruffs. A business woman, favored of the Queen, is found drowned in her starching vat. The murder was witnessed by the adopted daughter of Thomas Gresham, one of Elizabeth's financial advisors, but she is too deeply in shock to tell what, or who, she saw. And then another royal favorite, also a female starcher, is killed.

Suspects, from the personal to the political, are everywhere. Gresham's wife was fiercely jealous of the first murdered woman, since she was sister to Gresham's mistress. A rival starcher, a man, resented both the royal favoritism elsewhere and the gender of his rivals. A Puritanical preacher constantly sermonizes against the sinfulness of ostentatious clothing, often within earshot of the people creating that clothing. He has minced no words regarding how he wishes Elizabeth would use her power to change clothing styles to something more suitable.

The suspicion stretches far away -- is this another plot by Mary, Queen of Scots, to sow discord in Elizabeth's kingdom and overthrow her? It strikes close to home as well -- Meg, the Queen's beloved herb-stewing woman, is accused of the murder by London's Chief Constable, on the grounds that she gathered the roots for the starch and she fought over the price. He is not willing to be put off from questioning her under duress, not even by the Queen's orders. Time for Elizabeth to summon her most trusted servants for a little more officially unofficial sleuthing!

The Elizabeth I series is always good for a heady mix of political machinations, multiple plotlines, action, and historical detail, and THE FATAL FASHIONE does not disappoint. Several overlapping plots -- Meg's, Elizabeth's, and the Gresham's -- are all juggled for the maximum of suspense, with the action-filled climax you always get from a Harper book.

The historical aspects are well described, but for those who need a quick reminder, Harper also provides an author's note, a family tree, and a Tudor timeline. Recommended for all fans of that era in history.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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