by Susanna Calkins
Genres: Historical Fiction
For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn't kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself. Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer. In her debut novel Murder at Rosamund's Gate, Susanna Calkins seamlessly blends historical detail, romance, and mystery in a moving and highly entertaining tale.
The cover of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate spoke to me and the synopsis with its promise of a mystery sealed the deal. Susanna Calkins debut novel shares a wonderful murder mystery set in 1665 London with a Nancy Drew vibe. A young chambermaid unearths clues regarding a serial killer, whois attacking women.
Lucy Campion is a chambermaid in the Hargraves home and she and the other servants are truly blessed to live in a home where the residents treat them more like family at a time period when young ladies are accosted and a servant can be fired at the drop of a hat. Her employer is the local Magistrate and his son a young lawyer. The tale shares with us the murders of a young woman, the London courts and the horrors of the plague all through the eyes of our young maid. Lucy becomes someone of a young Nancy Drew as she tries to clear a loved one’s name and discover who killed her friend. There is a little side romance which I found quite interesting. The tale that unfolds was suspenseful with clever twists as Lucy uncovered clues and suspects.
The Hargraves home is quite an unusual one especially for the time period but I’d like to think that this occurred more often than those of society at the time let on. The servants are almost regarded as family, indeed taking meals with the family when guests are not present. While this is certainly not the norm I find it hard to believe that all households treated their servants as property, beat them and that young ladies regularly fell victim to the master’s advances. The Magistrate read to his servants at night, and Lucy loved these moments, in fact, she asked questions and voice opinions. She has an inquisitive mind, and questions the workings of the legal system, the local law enforcement and decides to look into the murders herself. Adam the magistrate’s son, a young lawyer delighted and confused me all at the same time. His treatment of Lucy wavered like a flag blowing in the wind and the author explains him rather well but I wanted to throttle him more than once. We had a delightful list of suspects, servants and secondary characters that helped keep me guessing regarding the serial killer. The characters were nicely developed and Lucy herself felt very real.
This tale is a story within a story within a story. On one hand, we have a murder mystery and a romance and in the other, we have London with its political time period, the plague, and its flawed court systems. While the author did a wonderful job of weaving them all together and the pacing was well done, it also left some of the threads thin. She beautifully described London, the markets, and the feelings of the people but the mystery did not always take center stage as these side stories got in the way. While for the most part historically accurate the author readily admits to using some modern language and changing some dates and I think her reasoning was valid although at first, I did find these things jarring. The twists and turns regarding suspects were suspenseful and perhaps my favorite thread throughout the tale. I found Lucy’s detective skills to be clever but often feared she would be discovered. The romance was sweet, complicated and appealed to my romantic side. The tale accurately depicted the upper classes opinions of servants; Quakers, the courts and the church giving us an inside look at the Restoration period. Calkins did a nice job with the murder, adding clever twists. I solved this before Lucy but had to wait for the motive to be revealed. The reveal was quite climactic, as were other threads as they closed keeping me turning the pages late into the night. The ending closed most threads allowing the reader to comfortably fill in the pieces.
Historical fiction fans who enjoy a little side mystery will find A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate engaging. A nice debut I will certainly try this author again.
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