Death at St. Vedast by Mary Lawrence

I don’t read a lot of books set in Tudor England (I find it a rather dismal period) but I love a good historical mystery, and I really enjoyed this book, which was sent to me by author Mary Lawrence.

vedastI violated one of my reading rules by coming into this series at Book Three, but Lawrence tells readers that each of these books work as a stand-alone. While I could tell I was missing some back-story, it wasn’t a problem.  But you might want to start with the first one.

Lawrence’s series is set in London in the time of Henry VIII and begins with The Alchemist’s Daughter.  Bianca Goddard is the daughter of an alchemist who has become an expert in the use of herbs and potions.  In Book Three, she and husband John encounter two mysterious deaths in their new community.  The first involves an unidentified pregnant woman who falls from the roof of the church, St. Vedast.  The second involves a French woman who marries their good friend (and John’s mentor) Boisvert.

I found the book a bit slow at first, mainly because I’m not used to the language of the 1500s.  At the same time I really appreciated the level of detail Lawrence provides in areas such as religion, craftsmanship, and guilds.  The story focuses on two guilds in particular, the bakers and the goldsmiths.  I was also interested in the English characters’ views of the French.  They are neighbors today, but I imagine in the 1500’s, France and England would have seemed like different worlds (and maybe even today they still feel pretty separate).

Like most historical mysteries, this book is more about atmosphere and detail than the story itself.  Lawrence gives us really interesting characters in Bianca and John.  Bianca is hard to like at times; she’s a strong woman who is not very careful in a time where women have no rights and she could easily be called a witch.  There are times when her husband asks her to tone down her speech or act less assertively, and she’s not terribly responsive.  Sometimes I found her selfish; but then I wondered if I would find a male character selfish for doing the same things?  In fact, the book begins with her giving up her craft in order to move to a location that will benefit her husband’s career.  I could appreciate Bianca’s need for independence, though it creates real challenges in her marriage.  This made me wish I’d read the previous books so I’d know more about how they came to marry.

Also like most mysteries, there are many characters to keep track of, and remembering names and places is not my strong point.  This is a complex story, and although I found several characters suspicious from the beginning, it all comes together in an interesting way.  If you’re interested in the time period and a good historical mystery, I think you’ll enjoy this series.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for an honest review.  The book will be published on December 27, 2016 by Kensington Books.


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