Like many romance readers, we were quite saddened to learn of the death of Edith Layton in 2009. She had a remarkable voice that was gone from us too soon. However, her daughter has been working hard not only to see her backlist republished digitally, but to publish new work as well.
Frost Fair is something of a departure. While Layton keeps the Regency England setting her readers associate with her, this novel is a mystery with only a faint touch of the romantic to it. The story centers on the mysterious death of an aristocratic bachelor on the eve of his wedding, his naked body found on the doorstep of a fishmonger in a decidedly unfashionable part of London.
The quest to discover what happened and why brings together the victim’s nephew, Lucian, Viscount Maldon, as well as Maggie Pushkin, the widowed owner of the fish shop, and Spanish Will Corby, a legendary Bow Street Runner working the case. The three come from different backgrounds and different strata of society. Because the case involves chasing leads not only through the slums and the shops of local traders, but also into the homes of the aristocracy, the three join forces. Their alliance is reluctant at first and filled with mistrust, but along the way solid bonds form between them.
Lynn Spencer and Janet Webb were both eager to dive into this book, and are here to share their thoughts on it.
Lynn: So, what did you think of Frost Fair in general? I was thrilled when I heard that Edith Layton had left behind another gift for readers, but I went into this one completely unsure of what to expect.
Janet: So many romance writers have switched to writing mysteries – it looks like she was ahead of the trend.
Lynn: True. The results on that have been mixed for me, but I did really enjoy Frost Fair. What did you think of it?
Janet: It’s making me miss her all over again. Her language is meticulously precise and laden with sly humor.
Lynn: Yes! I loved how vividly she drew the world in this book. It’s a grittier side of Regency Lindon than many romance readers are used to, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read lately where the setting really haunted me.
And then there are the three leads-Spanish Will, Mrs. Pushkin, and of course, the nobleman whose uncle’s death brings everyone together. Did you have a favorite character?
Janet: Very hard to choose. The Viscount because he seemed so human. But the runner has pathos too. Mrs. Pushkin perhaps seems a little too perfect or very likable.
Lynn: Interestingly, I think I’d agree with you on Maggie Pushkin if she were a standard issue historical romance heroine. However, knowing that she had a very difficult life before inheriting her husband’s fish shop, I had to admire her hopefulness and willingness to share what little she had. And I loved her curiosity about the world.
I did find Lucian (Viscount Maldon) the most interesting. He had more facets to him, I think.
Janet: I admired Maggie’s generosity greatly… am I reaching for the stars to want to have seen just a tiny flaw or too? Don’t get me wrong: she’s a terrific heroine.
Lynn: True, she can be sometimes a tad naive but otherwise decidedly lacking in the flaw department. :)
I know I mentioned how vividly drawn I found the setting to be. Since this isn’t a romance, the author explores a grittier side of Regency life. For me, it was painful to think about the deprivation some of the people in this book, particularly children, encountered. And yet I so enjoyed the main characters that I found myself sinking deep into the story. How did the setting affect you?
Janet: She paints the settings with every detail. Think of the bar where the two men sat with the fishwives. Smell, lighting, atmosphere: it was like a screenplay. Same with the minute details and similes around Lucian’s eyes. Moving from the West End to the East End added so much!
Lynn: Yes, I almost felt like I was sitting in that bar. I loved that the settings are filled with detail but the author leaves you to draw your own conclusions. That made certain scenes stand out for me but it also opened my eyes to aspects of life in that time that I’ll admit I’ve often been content to gloss over, like some of those brothel details.
Without giving too much away, how did you like the ending?
Janet: I’m glad at the end that Layton held out some hope for Will and Maggie (did you sense that?) I think I always knew who did it. Who else? Romance lovers won’t appreciate an ending that just gradually fades away. But how else could it end?
Lynn: I agree. The characters grew close but their class differences didn’t just disappear. I knew there couldn’t be an easy ‘Let’s all ride off into the sunset together’ ending. I thought this one was very fitting. Hopeful and wistful all at once.
Janet: This book really was good. The descriptions were mesmerizing. All three characters evolved so much while staying true to themselves.