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Death in a Scarlet Coat
Lord Francis Powerscourt Investigation, No 10
David Dickinson

Soho Constable
March 15, 2011 / ISBN 9781569479124
Historical Mystery / England 1909/ Gaslight era

Reviewed by LJ Roberts

First Sentence: It was very cold at nine o’clock on a breezy autumn morning in Lincolnshire.

The Earl of Candlesby is dead; an event more to cause celebration than mourning. Yet no one is allowed to see his body and the local, very elderly doctor is forced into signing a death certificate stating “natural causes.” Lord Francis Powerscourt, one of the most respected inquiry agents in Great Britain, and his wife Lady Lucy stop in Lincolnshire on their way to one of her many relatives. There they help out the local vicar and meet the doctor who later requests Powerscourt’s help in relieving the doctor’s conscience and finding out how the Earl really did die.

One of Dickinson’s many strengths is establishing a sense of time and place. His descriptions are so evocative, they are auditory, visual, and even one gets when standing on the site where the past and the present converge. Weather effectively becomes another character. His references to meals and fine wines make it easy to envision not only the food but the settings in which they are partaken. Dickinson is an author who also knows how to use humor effectively such as when a vicar starts to introduce the Powerscourts and inadvertently segues into the benediction.

His descriptive powers extend to the characters as well, from the protagonists of Lord and Lady Powerscourt and their friend Johnny Fitzpatrick who fought alongside Powerscourt but is afraid of cars, to the minor players, making each distinctive and memorable. There is a real sense of empathy for and natural humanity given to the characters, even those less meritorious. Nor does he overlook the importance and contribution of the secondary characters to the story.

While there is one story thread some may feel could have been omitted, it provided a strong sense of reality, historic perspective and relevance related to the political and economic state as well as pressure for the right to vote for all men, but without ever slowing the story down. He incorporates historical figures while keeping them in their actual roles, adding veracity to the story. A particularly enjoyable reference is made by a young reporter about having had two of his short stories published in “The Strand Magazine.” There is also, what could be considered, a rather large coincidence at the beginning of the book. It could, however, also be interpreted as a case of serendipity.

Lest you think these are light, non-action books; think again. The crimes are brutal, the risk and suspense can be high and bodies do accumulate. The plotting is exceptional, even to the final chapter. Death in a Scarlet Coat was one excellent book.

Reviews of other titles in this series

Death & The Jubilee, No 2
Death of an Old Master
, No 3
Death of a Chancellor, No 4
Death Called To The Bar, No 5
Death on the Nevskii Prospekt, No 6
Death on the Holy Mountain, No 7
Death of a Pilgrim,
No 8
Death of a Wine Merchant
, No 9
Death in a Scarlet Coat, No 10 [review 1] [review 2]
Death at the Jesus Hospital, No 11 [review 1] [review 2]
Death of an Elgin Marble No 13

Reviewed 2011