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by Peg Herring
Five Star, November 2011
294 pages
ISBN: 1432825364

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Simon Malden is the apprentice of Thomas Carthburt, an apothecary. This is a good thing for Simon; he can't become a doctor like his father because Simon has a withered arm. An apothecary can make a good living. When Carthburt is summoned to Whitehall Palace on an errand of King Edward VI, he brings Simon along. One of Edward's advisors is dead. The King wishes to know the cause of this death. Carthburt, based upon his knowledge, decides that Lord Amberson was poisoned. Was he the real target, or was it the King?

The next day a servant girl dies from a fall down a flight of stairs. Was this an accident or somehow related to the death of Lord Amberson? Princess Elizabeth is now at Whitehall; her place precarious and her every move watched. Somehow, she manages to inveigle Simon into another investigation. For Elizabeth, knowledge has always been power, and she knows that there is almost no outcome to this matter that won't impinge upon her in some way. She wants to have as much control over her situation as she can. She is too close to the throne to take the risk of ignoring this situation.

Simon and his wife-to-be Hannah do Elizabeth's bidding with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Her requests really can't be ignored but neither Simon nor Hannah enjoy all that they demand of them. Simon looks up old friends and finds that their positions in society have changed, just as has his own. While this presents some problems early in the investigation, Elizabeth and her team make the best of these changes.

Herring writes about Elizabeth before she is Queen. Some quibble that Elizabeth at this age would not be so wise, so aware of her world. Life was not the same then; most women Elizabeth's age were married with children, for example. Her very survival depended upon her knowing what was going on around her, being able to see the machinations of the court, using her time to consider all the ramifications of the intrigues and power struggles that were so rampant in England during and after Henry VIII's rule. Anyone searching for a strong female character doesn't have far to look. Herring's use of the role of women, perceived and real, in POISON makes that case handily. Herring's knowledge of history gives the book an air of authenticity. POISON is a great second entry in the series that begins with HER HIGHNESS' FIRST MURDER.

P.J. Coldren lives in northern lower Michigan where she reads and reviews widely across the mystery genre when she isn't working in her local hospital pharmacy.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, August 2011

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