I had been awaiting this latest Ashmole Foxe mystery since the author told me it was on its way. I am an unrepentant fan of this mystery series, and I bought a copy for review.
Ashmole Foxe Ashmole Foxe is a bookseller in Norwich, England, during the Georgian era. He is well-to-do from the sales of his bookstore and also his ability to find and sell rare books for significant profit. All of this he finds mundane, and over the years he has acquired a solid reputation for solving murders, which has become his raison d’etre.
Ashmole Foxe is tasked by the City Alderman to locate the mayor of Norwich, Robert Belton, who seems to have disappeared. Belton is well limned by the author as a middle aged man who became mayor by luck rather than talent, since the title and the task is awarded traditionally by seniority. The unexpected deaths of several more senior alderman moved Belton to the top of the list. It is clear even to Belton that he is not worthy of the job, being regarded as a lightweight by the other Alderman, and furthermore, not having the wealth required by a Mayor to pay for the traditional mayoral social duties. His wife thoroughly dislikes him, and he has taken a prosperous business handed to him at his father’s death and run it into the ground with poor management, theft, and disinterest. His attempts as mayor to make changes in Norwich are met with resistance from his fellow Aldermen, and he does what he usually does – drops whatever he is fixed on and moves on to something equally unlikely to succeed. This is the man Foxe is to find, even though it is clear that his wife doesn’t want him found and the Aldermen are only asking because of the difficulty in not having a mayor to lead the city.
The job comes at a perfect time for Foxe, who has been listless and bored for several months, all of the women in his life – none of them truly serious relationships – having moved on. In the course of receiving this task from Alderman Halloran, a close friend, Foxe is reacquainted with the younger of the two nieces who live with Halloran, Miss Lucy Halloran. Both nieces have recently returned from an extended stay in Paris, and Lucy has morphed from a “dear, awkward, wayward, unconventional and bright” girl to a desirable and beautiful woman in Foxe’s eyes. Foxe is instantly smitten and rendered speechless. Lucy displays some of her youth in berating Foxe for not having corresponded with her in Paris, souring their initial meeting.
The two story lines become intertwined as Foxe soon discovers a complex tangle of events with no real leads. He makes little progress, reaching one dead end after another, until Lucy helps him find the right threads. As usual, he uses the street children of Norwich, Mrs. Crombie, the manager of his bookstore, and Mistress Tabby, an herbalist and Wise Woman, to help him track down clues and news. The descent into darkness is both Foxe’s own, as he despairs of ever winning Lucy’s affection, but also that of Robert Belton, as the reader learns.
My take on this book:
There were several lovely aspects of this book, in addition to the colorful characters populating Foxe’s world, ones I have grown to enjoy. First is an exquisite description of Norwich through Foxe’s eyes, as he takes his roundabout walk to his favorite coffee house each morning. The author’s historical knowledge of Georgian times and Norwich, in particular, is prodigious and his characters are memorable. The second is the total frustration that grows in the reader when every step taken by Foxe is a false one. And third is the character of Belton himself, whose point of view opens the book. I think his point of view is a necessary prequel to what follows. And finally, there is a lot of physical action at the end of the book. For a Georgian mystery, which moves at the pace of the time, this is a sea change.
The only unsettling aspect, to my mind, is the relationship between Foxe and Lucy. She begins with a childlike temper tantrum, and yet Foxe falls immediately in love with this seventeen-year-old. Foxe is in his early thirties, by my reckoning, and is a man of the world! Even though the age of consent at the time was twelve for girls, I found the age difference and the speed with which Foxe was consumed by physical thoughts of Lucy a little disconcerting. But this is probably my own view through modern eyes. I might add, having read the other books, that is past time for Mr. Foxe to have a serious, reciprocated relationship, so bravo to the author.
All in all, I highly recommend this book as a worthy addition to this mystery series, and anyone who has read the previous books will heartily enjoy this one. It is dark, but also surprising. To those who haven’t yet met Ashmole Foxe, you can start here without any problem since the author brings the reader up to date.
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 a historical mystery. To date, he has focused on two series of murder-mystery books, both set in Norfolk between 1760 and around 1800.
Norfolk is not only an inherently interesting county, but it also happens to be where the author lives, which makes the necessary research far easier. The Georgian period had the attraction of being an era he had never studied intensively, and so far he has not regretted his choice. The period has far exceeded his expectations in the 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!
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
Foxe and the Descent into Darkness can be found on Amazon: