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Death at St Vedast by Mary Lawrence

I enjoy a good historical mystery where you can tell the author has at least one foot in that era.  Such a mystery is “Death at St. Vedast” by Mary Lawrence.  Lawrence proved in her first “A Bianca Goddard Mystery,” “The Alchemist’s Daughter,” that she had thoroughly researched the social, economic, political and cultural history of England at the time of Henry VIII.  “Death at St. Vedast” is an inventive continuation of alchemist, healer and amateur sleuth, Bianca Goddard’s story.

This new story is set in 1543 in London and in a small village outside London called Dinmow. Bianca and her husband, John, have rented John’s master’s house when the Silversmith, Boisvert, prepares to move to the home of his bride, Odile Farendon, a wealthy widow of a Goldsmith.  Several suspicious deaths occur in and around St. Vedast, the church where Odile and Boisvert are to be married.  The deaths could be signs of poisoning, bewitching, or both.  Boisvert and the priest who marries the couple, Father Nelson, are both accused.  Similar strange deaths occur in the village of Dinmow, the place where the flour used to make communion wafers and a pax bread given to the bride before her marriage.  Bianca observes a number of suspicious happenings between members of the Goldsmiths Guild, the White and Brown Bread Bakers Guilds, an attorney, the warden at St. Vedast, and others, that cause her to suspect people are being framed to protect those who are really guilty.  She and John need to take a trip to Dinmow to investigate and start to unlock what really happened.

Lawrence carefully explains in an afterword where she has changed some details to fit the storyline, primarily in where she locates some of the guildhalls.  It is clear that she has a very good grasp of what life in Tudor England was really like.  There are plenty of colorful descriptions, interesting plots, exciting action and authentic dialogue to make “Death at St. Vedast” a page-turner for all who appreciate fiction set in early Renaissance England.

Reviewed from a supplied advance edition. This book is now available from Kensington Books.

Liz Nichols

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Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell

Red Mist” is about the 19th in Patricia Cornwell’s “Scarpetta Mystery” series.  Kay Scarpetta has become the director of the Cambridge Forensic Center in Cambridge, MA but all the action takes place in Savannah, GA where Scarpetta visits to follow a lead in the murder of her deputy chief, Jack Fielding.  Her niece’s former lover, Jaime Berger, has hoodwinked Kay into seeing one of Jaime’s clients at the Georgia Penitentiary For Women, Kathleen Lawler.  Thirty years earlier Lawler had lured Jack Fielding into an underage rape situation and it forever scared Fielding.  The rape also caused Lawler and Fielding to have a daughter (or daughters) together.

The visit to the prison triggers a series of events that Scarpetta could well be blamed for including the mysterious death of Lawler, of another inmate who was just hours away from execution, and also led to several other deaths and attempted deaths.  Is the country under attack with a biological weapon? Is this the work of a sadistic medical worker or pharmacist? Is the GPFW warden trying to take justice into her own hands? Is this all an attempt by a jealous former lover to get even? Can Scarpetta trust her niece, her investigator, Marino, her husband FBI agent, Benton, or her niece’s former lover?  Can Scarpetta trust her own reactions to several heinous crimes that take place one right after the other? What do the new murders say about the way a six year old home invasion/multiple murder was investigated and will Scarpetta get in trouble for inserting herself into that closed case in order to save the woman currently on death row for that earlier family murder?

Red Mist” is a tense crime scene investigation that will keep the reader guessing throughout this long book.

Liz Nichols

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