Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins


In Susanna Calkins's atmospheric debut novel, a chambermaid must uncover a murderer in seventeenth-century plague-ridden London.

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime. In a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren't permitted to defend their clients, and--if the plague doesn't kill them first--public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never see this person alive again. Unless, that is, she can identify the true murderer.

Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers' shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.

Minotaur Books | April 23, 2013 | 352 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Susanna Calkins debut novel, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate, is a historical mystery set in 17th London.  The novel's heroine, Lucy Campion, is a young chambermaid working in the home of a respected magistrate.  When a fellow servant and good friend is found murdered, and someone close to Lucy is identified as a leading suspect, Lucy sets out to undercover the truth.   Although she knows little about solving crimes, Lucy is determined to get to the bottom of her friend's murder and exonerate the main suspect.  Will Lucy be able to identify the real murderer before it is too late? 

There are many aspects of this novel that I enjoyed.  First and foremost is the novel's heroine, Lucy, who is characterized as an intelligent, inquisitive and resourceful young woman, one who isn't afraid to do whatever necessary to protect those she loves.  I loved Lucy's relationship with the magistrate and his family, who treated her as a valued member of their household.  I also enjoyed how Lucy slowly goes about searching for the real murderer.  What works so well with Lucy's quest is that Calkins never places her in improbable or unrealistic situations, which help to make Lucy's actions believable.  Supporting Lucy is a great cast of secondary characters, and I liked how Lucy interacted with each of them. 

In addition to having a great heroine, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is also full of rich historical detail that provides the reader with a glimpse into life in 17th century London.  The reader becomes familiar with the daily life of a young servant, and also gains an appreciation for the 17th century English legal system.   One of the most interesting parts of the narrative was when the plague struck.  Calkins does a great job illustrating the fear that gripped the city as a whole and those directly affected by the plague, as well as the steps that needed to be taken to prevent its spread and to nurse those afflicted.   

The mystery itself slowly unfolds over the course of the novel.  While I had some inkling as to the identity of the real murderer well before the story's conclusion, this didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book.  It is my understanding that A Murder at Rosamund's Gate will be the first novel in a series featuring Lucy Campion.  I can't wait to read the next one. 

Recommended to fans of historical mysteries and general historical fiction set in England. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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