Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Painted Lady by Edward Marston

Although this book is the next in the Christopher Redmayne series set in Restoration London I felt that it could quite happily be read on its own without previous books.

Every man wishes he could seduce Araminta Jewell. Her beauty is so dazzling that men are willing to wage bets on who will have her first. When she marries Sir Martin Culthorpe many of her admirers are kept at bay. Yet when Sir Martin is murdered the field is left wide open again. Just who has killed Sir Martin and just what do they hope to gain? When suspicion falls on the French artist who has been commissioned to paint Lady Culthorpe's picture, the architect Christopher Redmayne is drawn into the mystery. Eager to clear his clients name and his own Christopher enlists the help of the trusted Constable Jonathan Bale and his own brother, the wayward Henry Redmayne. Can they reach the truth before his client reaches the noose?

I have been a fan of Edward Marston since I read 'The Kings Evil', the first of the Christopher Redmayne series. Since that time I have happily read all the other books in that series and those of the The Railway Detective series. Therefore I expect a lot from Mr Marston. Unfortunately on this occasion I did not feel he managed to deliver. Don't get me wrong, this is an adequate book and a genial read, a perfectly nice book to pass an afternoon with but it was not up to his usual standard. I was not as drawn in as I usually am and felt the plot a little bit weak. Although it started with much promise it did not follow through. I found Araminta a bit two dimensional and after the death of Sir Martin I wondered what the point of the various interludes in the book to her pouring out her grief was. I found them somewhat tedious and did not add to the story in any way.

I also felt Jonathan Bale was not as prominent a figure as he has been in previous books and it is the relationship between him and Christopher that is always of particular delight. The fact that both are moral men in their own ways but are essentially either side of the Restoration divide. I also missed Susan Cheever.

It was a difficult book as there was quite clearly only one motive for the killing, to get to Araminta. This meant that there really were very few possibilities as to 'whodunnit' although I must admit I did not get who it was until almost the very end. It meant that the story had far fewer twists and turns than most murder mystery plots and that there was no real need to get to know the victim or the victim's background. All in all I would hazard the guess that Marston was writing this to fulfil some sort of quota with the publishing house. It certainly isn't his best work and I would advise people to read 'The Kings Evil' or 'The Railway Detective' first if they have not tried Marston before.

Not a bad book but I was expecting so much more.

**3 stars**

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