Friday, June 29, 2007

Death and the Cornish Fiddler by Deryn Lake

In this eleventh outing for John Rawlings we find our beloved apothecary in Devon with his daughter Rose. They are taking a welcome break from London with his old friend Elizabeth di Lorenzi after the death of Emilia Rawlings (see 'Death in the Setting Sun' for more background on this). Elizabeth is keen to attend The Floral Dance, a local pagan festival in a tiny village known as Helstone. Both John and Rose are eager to attend and it is not long before the party are enjoying the sights and sounds of Helstone during the festivities. It is in Helstone that they meet a disagreeable young girl who terrorises Rose. Yet when the child goes missing John knows he must do everything in his power to find her. It is not long before one of the guests at the inn dies in mysterious circumstances and once again John is on the trail of murder and mayhem. Not everything is as it seems and perhaps the magic and witchcraft surrounding the festivities is much more than local superstition.

The last volume in this series was exceedingly heart wrenching. For John to loose the love of his life and have to go on the run when accused of her murder, it would be hard for any author to follow that. Sadly, this is the case. Although an enjoyable romp through 18th century Devon this book lacks the raw emotion and gripping storyline of the previous book. Much of the storyline was predictable, particularly that concerning Elizabeth di Lorenzi. It felt like a book cobbled together in the aftermath of Emilia's death and John's exoneration. I suspect that Lake has very clear ideas about the next book and that this installment is merely a filler between that and 'Death in the Setting Sun'.

As well as the predictability I found many of the characters lacked depth and interest. I appreciate that many are invented to set our teeth on edge but I kept wanting more. The lack of John Fielding, Sir Gabriel, Samuel, Nicholas and other regular characters I found saddening. Over the last few books the old faces are beginning to dwindle and unfortunately I do not feel they are being replaced by worthy candidates.

I will definitely be reading the next installment of this series, not least because I want to be reassured that this is a momentary lapse in Lake's excellent writing career. I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys well constructed, beautifully set murder mysteries. One cannot fault Deryn's ability to paint 18th century alive with words. I would recommend you go out and start at the beginning of the series with 'Death in the Dark Walk'. If you read I first you really not be sampling her finest work or come to love John and his family and friends as much as I do.

*3 stars*

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