25 May 2018

Review: THE SANS PAREIL MYSTERY, Karen Charlton

  • this edition published in 2015 by Thomas Mercer
  • ISBN 978-1503-947825
  • 322 pages
  • source: my local library
  • The Detective Lavender Mysteries #2
Synopsis (Amazon)

On a cold February night in Regency London, a dark curtain falls on the Sans Pareil Theatre following the death of April Clare, a promising young actress, whose body is found in mysterious circumstances.

Detective Stephen Lavender and his dependable deputy, Constable Woods, quickly discover that nothing is quite as it seems. As successive mysteries unfold, they soon realise that it is not only the actors from the Sans Pareil who are playing a part.

With the Napoleonic War looming dangerously across the Channel, this is a time of suspicion and treachery. Following the clues from the seedy back streets of Covent Garden up through the echelons of society, Lavender and Woods begin to fear that the case is much bigger than they’d dared imagine—and worse, that they are at risk of becoming mere players in a master criminal’s shadowy drama.

It will take all of Lavender’s skill and wit, and help from the beautiful Magdalena, to bring the mystery of the Sans Pareil Theatre to a dramatic conclusion in the final act.

My Take

The second in the Detective Lavender series, set in London in 1810, Lavender is the chief detective in the Bow Street Runners. The body of a young woman is found under the floor of a derelict house about to be demolished. She is identified by the pathologist who had seen her on stage at a local theatre.

Apart from the murder mystery, the story gives interesting insights into Regency London. The Napoleonic Wars are not going well and London is full of foreigners such as Spanish that have fled from the invaders and French spies and those who who have fled from Bonaparte's regime. William, Duke of Clarence, who lives with an actress, is one of the circle of those who patronise the Sans Pareil theatre. (From the early 1790s until 1811, William lived with his mistress, the actress Dorothy Jordan. They had 10 children who took the surname Fitzclarence). Later he becomes William IV, married to Queen Adelaide. Ironically, in view of the 10 earlier children, their marriage is childless.

Lavender himself is very friendly with a Spanish widow. She is also a Catholic in a largely Protestant England.

The story becomes a tale of espionage when a coded document is discovered among the dead actress' papers.

This was one of those books that could have done with much better proof reading. The "typos" were made more noticeable by an earlier borrower who had gone through with a pencil striking words out and indicating omissions. Some errors were obviously caused by the use of an auto-correcter where the wrong version of a word had been accepted. All would have been funny if it hadn't become so annoying.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Karen Charlton, a writer of mysteries, writes historical crime fiction, set in Regency England.

The Detective Lavender Mysteries, published by Thomas & Mercer, are the fictional adventures of Stephen Lavender, who was a real-life Principal Officer with the Bow Street Police Office in London. 

By the early 19th century, Principal officers had a variety of different and important roles although they were still nicknamed 'Bow Street Runners' as if they were messenger boys. Apart from supporting their colleagues solve crime in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. They also took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands and were available to hire by wealthy landowners.

They were Britain's earliest private detectives and were famous throughout London. They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House (the forerunner of the palace) and did security work for the Bank of England. On some occasions, they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out onto the continent. 

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