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by Gwendoline Butler
Allison and Busby, March 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0749082836

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Gwendoline Butler is one of the UK's most prolific writers having produced more than 50 novels including the long running Coffin series and a number of volumes under the pseudonym of Jennie Melville. DREAD MURDER is the second book in her new Major Mearns series.

Set in the reign of George IV, we find Major Mearns ensconced at Windsor Castle in the role of Watcher, Together with his former comrade in the Napoleonic wars, Denny, he maintains order in the castle and gathers intelligence to protect the King, but it is events in the town of Windsor itself that largely preoccupy him in DREAD MURDER.

Stowing away on a coach from London to Windsor one day is a worldly-wise ten-year-old called Charlie who has escaped from factory life in the capital. Looking for ways to make money and secure shelter he makes friends with a fellow passenger, Miss Fairface, an actress about to take up residence at the Theatre Royal. He also quickly secures some cash by agreeing to deliver a couple of heavy parcels to Major Mearns at the castle, but the parcels contain grisly evidence of the death of a an acquaintance of the Major.

Interested in what might be going on, Charlie tags along with the Major as he begins his investigations, and the pair are in the thick of it again when a body is discovered murdered at the Theatre during the interval of an evening performance. Several more murderous attempts are to come, as the Major, Denny and Charlie seek to link up with the local fledgling police force, and enlist help from other castle employees.

Although billed as a Major Mearns mystery, it is Charlie who steals the show, as he exhibits his resourcefulness and intelligence, and wins many admirers. The plot and dialogue flash along with lots of action and many distinctive characters. DREAD MURDER also includes references to some real-life people but their activities are largely off stage,

I was a little disappointed, or perhaps, disconcerted by a couple of the explanations at the end of the story, but nevertheless it was an easy and a very engaging read.

The author acknowledges the help of John Kennedy Melange for his advice on the history of the Theatre Royal in Windsor and its manager Henry Thorn ton who appears in the novel. This left me wishing there had been an afterward explaining which characters and events in the novel were based on fact as that would have been a very interesting footnote to what was undoubtedly a well-researched mystery.

Reviewed by Bridget Bolton, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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