This review is for Rosie’s Book Review Team. The book was purchased by the reviewer.
Black as She’s Painted is the fifth book in the Ashmole Foxe Mysteries series by William Savage. His other series is the Dr. Adam Bascom Mysteries and both are set in Georgian England, in and around Norwich. I will be honest and reveal I am a huge fan of William Savage and have enjoyed both of these mystery series. However, even though I come from a medical background, the Ashmole Foxe books are slight favorites, possibly because of the charismatic, unconventional and quirky protagonist.
Ashmole Foxe is a bookseller with his own shop, run largely and profitably for him by an entrepreneurial widow, Mrs. Crombie. Foxe is a dandy and an unrepentant hedonist, a lover of beautiful women in his bed, fine wine and a surfeit of good food, but despite all these social faults, he has solved several other mysteries for Norwich’s political and mercantile elite. Thus it is natural for him to be approached for assistance when a rich goldsmith turned banker Samuel Mellanus goes missing. Almost immediately there is further news: the banker’s wife, who has a promiscuous reputation, has been found naked and strangled to death in her own bed.
A group of politicians/merchants need Foxe to find Mellanus, since having a missing banker is catastrophic for a bank and its money, but they also need him to discover how thousands of pounds have been stolen from the bank, without anyone noticing they were missing…until now. Add to this conundrum is the fact that Mellanus had closed his gold smithing business for no apparent reason, letting all his workers go, and Foxe discovers that coins and jewelry were taken from Mr. and Mrs. Mellanus by their pretty maid Maria.
Can Foxe find Mellanus and the missing money? Was Eleanor Mellanus as black as she was painted, or was it simply her misfortune to be both desirable and dumb, used and betrayed by the men she welcomed to her bed?
To solve these crimes, Foxe will use his considerable investigative powers and intellect, plus the help of characters introduced in previous books: a motley crew of street children, Mistress Tabby – a so-called Cunning Woman or folk healer, who practices folk medicine, and magic, and a sea captain, Captain Brock, who has just returned from his honeymoon.
As usual, the author wraps the solution to these crimes in layer upon layer of hard- won information, much of it not useful at the time of its uncovering, plus a number of tangential crimes. Also as usual, the reader learns a great deal about specific aspects of Georgian life. In each book, one of these aspects is a focal point, in this case coinage and banking.
William Savage is a living compendium of Georgian life, and he creates a world into which the reader is absorbed, alternatively colorful and dangerous, and populated by characters that become real. Over the series, I have come to look forward to the reappearance of many of them, interested in how their lives are evolving, as they most certainly do.
I was not disappointed by the tangled ball of yarn created by the author to be unwound by Ashmole Foxe. The pacing of this mystery series is slow, in keeping with life in Georgian England, and is something I have learned to enjoy. It allows the reader to savor the story.
If I had one criticism, it is the length of time it takes to get to the mystery. There is always a period of introduction at the beginning of the Foxe stories but this one was long enough to be on the tedious side.
I was also disappointed that the changes in Foxe’s life in the last book – his turn to more sedate attire and true consideration of the women in his life – were not evident in this one. Can this man go on forever in his present state? Will age catch up with him? I guess I will have to wait for the next book to find out.
In any event, as always, I strongly recommend this latest Ashmole Foxe adventure to anyone who likes historical mysteries and to anyone who might!
About the author:
William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and took his degree at Cambridge. After a working life largely spent teaching and coaching managers and leaders in Britain, Europe and the USA, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property and started to write fiction as a way of keeping his mind active in retirement. He had read and enjoyed hundreds of detective stories and mystery novels and another of his loves was history, so it seemed natural to put the two together and try his hand at producing an historical mystery. To date, he has focused on two series of murder-mystery books, both set in Norfolk between 1760 and around 1800 — a period of turmoil in Britain, with constant wars, the revolutions in America and France and finally the titanic, 22-year struggle with France and Napoleon.
Norfolk is not only an inherently interesting county, it happens to be where the author lives, which makes the necessary research far easier. The Georgian period seemed natural choice for him as well, since he lives in a small Georgian town, close by several other towns that still bear the imprint of the eighteenth century on many of their streets and grander buildings. It also had the attraction of being a period he had never studied intensively, and so far he has not regretted his choice. The period has far exceeded his expectations in richness of incidents, rapidity of change and plentiful opportunities for anyone with a macabre interest in writing about crimes of every kind. He cannot see himself running out of plot material any time soon!
You can find Black as She’s Painted on Amazon:
William Savage’s blog is Pen and Pension: http://penandpension.com I highly recommend his blog for his fascinating posts on all aspects of life in Georgian England.
You can also find him
On Twitter: @penandpension
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009908836774