The Mystery Maven, an avid mystery reader at my library, recommended this Regency-era mystery series, so I thought I'd try the first installment. I enjoy mysteries, but the caveat is that there must be more there than just the unraveling of the puzzle: compelling characters (and substantial character development), an interesting setting, events that leave the characters altered in a meaningful way at the end of the book. I am especially fond of historical mysteries - like those of Anne Perry, Laurie R., King and Lindsey Davis. And this one is definitely going on the list.
This first installment in the Julian Kestral series has an intriguing beginning. A young man of a noble, respected English family agrees to marry the daughter of a man who is wealthy but of a "common" background. Such marriages are not unheard of, particularly when the noble family is in financial straits. But the Fontclair family is prosperous, and the proposed marriage is clearly unwelcome to its members, who are proud of their family's noble past, which can be traced back to before the Battle of Hastings. What does wealthy tradesman Mark Craddock hold over their heads? This mystery is intriguing, but it is soon overshadowed by the death of a young, anonymous woman whose body is discovered tucked neatly in the bed in a guest room of their manor house just weeks before the wedding.
Our sleuth, Julian Kestral, reminds me of a young Jarndyce from Bleak House. At first glance he appears to be a superficial young man, out gaming and drinking with other well-dressed gentlemen. But it quickly becomes clear that he has kind and generous heart, although he dislikes it immensely if anyone calls attention to it. His manservant, Dipper, is an ex-pickpocket (and the story of how he became a servant is a wonderful illustration of Julian's kindhearted nature) and a wonderful character. Unfortunately, suspicion of the crime falls upon Dipper, and in order to clear his name, Julian must become involved in solving a mystery that is likely to tear apart the Fontclair family.
I enjoyed this mystery novel and will definitely read the next one in the series. It was full of lots of intriguing twists and turns, and, as with all good mysteries, in retrospect it came together and made perfect sense. I enjoyed the characters, and I will be curious to see which, if any, make appearances in future books in the series.
After I finished this book I learned that Kate Ross died 1n 1998 at the age of 42, and there are only four books in this series. How sad! Click here for a list of the books in the Julian Kestral series and for more information about the author.
Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross (Penguin, 1994)