The Tidal Poole
Many books (some of them mysteries) are set in Elizabethan England but there aren’t any others that can claim to have Queen Elizabeth herself doing the investigating. What amazed me in Karen Harper’s first historical mystery, The Poyson Garden and this one, is that Elizabeth’s sleuthing actually makes sense. She has formed a Privy Plot Counsel and is investigating murders and assassination plots.
Elizabeth I became the ruler of England in her early twenties and in fact as The Tidal Poole opens, she has just been crowned Queen. She’s a fiercely intelligent and independent woman who tries to escape the bonds of her position as often as possible. Prior to becoming queen she was the ward of others and generally had to live under house arrest, so any small way in which she can exert her hard won independence is welcome.
Elizabeth (or Bess as she’s called by her Privy Plot Counsel) finds herself drawn into the mystery of a young woman’s death. Penelope Whyte, Lady Maldon was the sister of one of Elizabeth’s childhood friends, Isabella Harington. Her murder occurs during the coronation procession but that isn’t the only factor that draws Bess in to the investigation. Isabella (Bella) asks the Queen to try to make the investigation veer away from her foster son, Jack St. Maur. Jack is the illegitimate son of Thomas Seymour, former Lord Admiral of England and the man who plotted to seduce Elizabeth in order to gain the throne. Bella’s request and Elizabeth’s lingering fondness for Jack’s father force her to take on the investigation despite her many pressing duties.
Everything works to push Bess further and further into the investigation. That’s fine. Ms. Harper handles the details well enough so that I believed the young Queen would take a little time to look into the matter. What was a little harder to take was the pacing. It takes a while for this one to get going and it doesn’t help that the first few chapters introduce enough cast members (dead and alive) to fill out the suspect list in two, or even three, other mysteries. The author did include a timeline and a family tree at the beginning of the book. That’s good and bad. Once you’re far enough into the story the relationships begin to hang together and the tree actually helps, but earlier on I went back and forth to that resource so much that I kept losing track of the plot.
As for the plot, it’s pretty straightforward. Bella was quite the coquette, and every man in the household seemed to have fallen under her spell at one time or another. Everyone had a reason for wanting her dead, but I guessed the killer pretty early in the book. There are hints of an assassination plot, but this element worked better in The Poyson Garden than it does here. The Queen’s assistants, who include an herbal expert with amnesia, a thief and her mute son, the Queen’s maid, an actor and myriad others all have interesting stories, but again because of the number of them, none is able to stand out and fully grab the reader’s interest.
Ms. Harper captured the time and setting very well and I definitely enjoy Queen Elizabeth as an intelligent investigator, so I’ll plan pick up the third in this series: The Twylight Tower. But only when it comes out in paperback.