Murder at Hatfield House
There was a reason that Queen Mary received the sobriquet Bloody Mary and it is that she instigated the ruthless, violent treatment of her subjects. Elizabeth, her half-sister, seemed the only hope of a people plagued by religious persecution. But Elizabeth’s rise to the throne was fraught with peril, not least because her sister desperately wanted to eliminate her as heir. Attempts were made to do just that but Elizabeth was able to triumph. This novel is a fictionalized account at what one of those attempts to discredit Elizabeth might have looked like and shows us just how desperate to help her her loyal subjects were.
Lord Braceton has been sent to Hatfield House to prove that Elizabeth and those who serve her are practicing heretics. He arrives in a fury. His manservant was killed on the road leading to the village and he himself chased the murderer on to the grounds of Hatfield House. He has no doubt that Elizabeth is harboring a killer but he also has no proof.
Kate Haywood, royal musician to the princess, is alarmed at Braceton’s rough treatment of the household. Hoping to learn just what is happening and how she can best protect herself and her father she listens with a friend at a secret passage near Elizabeth’s office. Elizabeth catches her and encourages her to continue to spy on their houseguest. She then sets Kate the errand of being her eyes and ears in the village, hoping that the killer has somehow revealed himself. Their safety will best be served if they can turn Braceton’s attention away from Hatfield House and the handful of people who huddle there awaiting a change in regime.
The trip to the village proves a bust except for giving Kate the opportunity to flirt with a handsome young lawyer. It seems the village is aware of trouble but very anxious not to discuss it. Then an invitation comes for Elizabeth to visit an old friend. While there, gossiping with the servants leads Kate to the true purpose of Braceton’s visit. She discusses it with Elizabeth on the way home but the trip receives an unexpected brush with excitement when they encounter a touring actor’s troupe. Elizabeth invites them all back to Hatfield House, leaving Kate to question just how much of a chance their meeting is – and just what will happen next.
History is blended with gentle fabrication to yield a sweet, cozy mystery in this debut novel. I know it may seem odd to use the word “lighthearted” regarding a book that discusses both an extremely violent time in English history and a murder mystery but that is the tone that I received from this story. It reminded me a bit of a Veronica Mars episode, with violent moments juxtaposed against meet ups with cute guys. Kate is the ideal heroine for this sort of set up: She is sweet, resourceful, and just the right amount of pretty to get guys but not capture too much attention.
The mystery portion, while dealing with some very violent deaths, has a Nancy Drew sort of flare. It is solved by asking questions and receiving answers to those questions and looking around a bit for clues. This stretched my disbelief some since I would have expected people in such violent times to guard their secrets a tad more carefully but this is entirely in keeping with how cozy mysteries are typically solved so it fit the storyline well.
The best thing about the story was what an accessible read it was. I could pick it up and put it down easily but at the same time stay interested in the tale while I had it in hand. The language was clear and direct lending itself to a speedy perusal. The information given wasn’t at all complex, you didn’t have to hold minute details in mind trying to figure out what was happening and that made solving the mystery effortless but pleasing work.
If you are a fan of cozy mysteries and enjoy a bit of history with them I would give this one a try. If you prefer your detectives a bit seasoned and your suspense to be edge of your seat I would give it a miss.