Unnatural Fire
By Fidelis Morgan
A Countess Ashby De LA Zouche Mystery
Harper Perennial - February 2002
ISBN: 0060007834 - Paperback

Reviewed by: Brenda Weeaks, MyShelf.Com
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60-year-old Lady Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche was once Charles II's mistress. Years later, in a new era called the Restoration, the Countess and many others live in chaos and poverty. The Countess has adapted to the reign of hard times by writing, but still ends up in debtors' prison for not paying her druggist. While there, she witnesses a bit of gossip that a local newspaper would gladly pay for. Little does she know that someone else has the same idea, and is willing to sell herself for the bit of gossip. When the ladies meet up, both expecting to be freed, the humorous scene leads to a reuniting of old acquaintances and the birth of a new sleuthing team.

Free from prison, the Countess and her former maid, Alpiew, greedily take the first case that arrives at their door. Mrs. Wilson is a wife who adores her husband and wants the name of the harlot taking his attentions. Beau Wilson seems to be a good-looking, yet dull man with no obvious secrets. That is, until the Countess and Alpiew start following him. Once they witness his kidnapping, and hear the words "Kill you," they assume it's all over, until he cheerfully arrives at his own doorstep the next day. It's a mystery as dark as the black fabric that covered Beau's eyes the night before.

Fidelis Morgan's first mystery in the Countess Ashby series is certainly an entertaining one. There are no signs of the usually first-in-series awkward introductions of the main characters or the setting, making it obvious that the author knows where she's going and what she wants from her characters. The mystery, which is expertly blended into the personal stories of the main characters, stands on its own and is mature in theme - well actually the entire story is a mature theme. Morgan literally pushes her characters on to the preverbial stage and there is nothing shy about the presentation. The author's confidence and writing skills are obvious and help to make the reading experience more gratifying.

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