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Death and the Cornish Fiddler
John Rawlings Series #11

by Deryn Lake

      Deryn Lake's novels about John Rawlings are always a treat; on the cozy side but delightfully capturing the 18th century outlook on life. This is the eleventh of a series that shows no sign of flagging, because the author has cleverly managed to find many ways of keeping her plots and characters fresh. The mix of the mild and malevolent brings to mind some of John Dickson Carr's peerless tales, and as he is my all-time favorite crime story writer this is high praise indeed. So why does she deserve it?

John's rather dull wife Emilia is now history, but he dotes upon his little daughter Rose and lusts after (in a very 18th century manner) the enigmatic Marchesa Elizabeth. After a sojourn in Devon, the three of them have traveled down to Helston to witness the famous Furry Dance, and at the inn where they are staying have fallen in with a rather ill-assorted group of people. When the obnoxious daughter of one of them vanishes during the festivities, John cannot resist playing sleuth and trying to catch the person responsible. But the girl has vanished and he hasn't a clue whodunit, only that he has a feeling something nasty is going on.

The main characters are once again on holiday, a delightful idea that takes them away from Bow Street. This gives a fillip to the series by introducing new sights and situations (writers of long-running series, take note). There is humor here, as evinced by the oddities staying at the inn; but this is tempered with murder, some real grief, and oddly a touch of the supernatural. There is always something going on, although at times the rather fruitless detecting does get a shade repetitive and in need of a change; although I confess, I wasn't bored once. I think my favorite thing about these books is the description of life in the robust mid 18th century, this time far from London with a cast of rakish aristocrats, dissipated fops, mysterious traveling folk, and west country worthies in a well realized setting that rings true to this reviewer - who lives in the southwest. Thus I would recommend it for all historical whodunit fans, not least because Ms. Lake lets her characters behave like 18th century people and doesn't bow to the popular convention of making them all politically correct for modern tastes. May this series run and run.

The Book

Allison & Busby
February 2006
Historical Crime [1765, Cornwall, UK]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2006
© 2006