Anna Campbell

My Favorite Things

May 2022: The Kurland St. Mary Historical Mysteries

I love a good historical romance and I love a good historical mystery. Today I’m going to talk about a series that is a wonderful combination of both genres.

The Kurland St. Mary mysteries by Catherine Lloyd are set just after Waterloo and are based around the idyllic (if rather deadly) estate and villages owned by Major Robert Kurland who has returned from the war with a severe injury to his leg and a lifelong fear of horses.

In book 1, Death Comes to the Village, Robert has pretty much given up on life and is suffering depression and PTSD. His bugbear is Lucy Harrington, the managing but undoubtedly intelligent daughter of the local rector who refuses to let Robert sink into his self-pity and skulk in his bedroom for the rest of his days.

When Robert notices suspicious activity out his window (shades of Rear Window!), he’s forced to rely on Lucy to investigate because he’s stuck in bed. Mayhem, murder, mystery and the beginnings of a rather bumpy romance ensue.

In book 2, Death Comes to London, the scene shifts to Mayfair where Lucy and her beautiful sister Anna make their debuts under the aegis of their uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Harrington. Robert is in Town, too, because very much against his inclinations, he’s to receive a baronetcy from the Prince Regent as a result of his heroism at Waterloo. When it turns out that there’s a poisoner at large, Robert and Lucy, whose relationship hasn’t become any easier, are forced to unite to investigate to save Anna from accusations of murder.

Book 3, Death Comes to Kurland Hall, has wedding bells chiming in the village, but not for Robert and Lucy who are at loggerheads after his clumsy proposal at the end of book 2. Shades of Mr. Darcy! When one of the wedding guests is found dead in suspicious circumstances, once again Lucy and Robert have to put aside their difficulties to, you guessed it, solve the murder!

Book 4, Death Comes to the Fair, explores relationships in the village in more depth and also has the run-up to Lucy and Robert’s wedding. Yes, they’ve finally sorted themselves out and realized that their prickly relationship actually hides a deep and abiding love. When a falling gargoyle crushes the church verger just after he’s won the prize for best vegetables at the local fair, Lucy and Robert have to put aside their wedding plans to uncover a murderer.

With the 5th book, Death Comes to the School, three years have passed and Robert and Lucy are having marital troubles – not at all surprising, considering how obstinate they both are. But when the unpopular new village schoolmistress is murdered, they must put aside their personal issues to uncover yet another murderer in their sleepy village. By this stage, I was snickering the way I snicker when I watch Midsomer Murders. These quiet English villages are more dangerous than the back alleys of any city!

Book 6, Death Comes to Bath, takes us back to high society, this time in the spa town of Bath where Robert is taking the waters with a view to curing his lingering leg injury. Robert and Lucy’s relationship is still somewhat fragile but they’re finding a way to live and work together. As always a murder, this time of a plain-spoken industrialist, brings them closer as they must bring their varied talents to bear on solving the mystery.

In book 7, Death Comes to the Nursery, there’s a nice mixture of London and village setting as Robert and Lucy, finally content in their life together, thank goodness, are drawn into aristocratic misdeeds and scandal when their new nursery maid disappears in puzzling circumstances.

Book 8, Death Comes to the Rectory, is the last in the series and I was rather sorry to leave the world of Kurland St. Mary. Robert and Lucy have welcomed a crowd of visitors to the village for the christening of their second child when the disagreeable Lord Northam is discovered dead at the rectory in circumstances that incriminate Lucy’s father. As you are no doubt expecting, investigations ensue.

Actually when I saw the title of this one, I was rather hoping that Lucy’s father might be the victim! While historically he’s quite an accurate character – vicars who were more interested in horses than in their parish were rife in the Regency – he’s a cold and selfish father and I wouldn’t blame Lucy for sticking a pen knife into him!

These books were the perfect read during the last couple of years when it was lovely to be assured of a lovely destination like Kurland St. Mary if the world got a bit spiky for comfort. Bad things happen and the characters face difficulties, but none of it is particularly dire and you’re assured of a happy ending each time.

Robert and Lucy and their various connections have been excellent company and there’s an element of realism in the relationships that really resonated for me, especially given the series covers eight books and several years. Robert’s injuries are an ongoing issue, as they would have been in real life. Lucy and Robert are both obstinate, clever, self-opinionated characters who would need time to settle into a contented married life. The slow growth of Robert’s respect for his wife’s brains, courage and resourcefulness is also realistic. He’s very much a man of his time at the start but he’s smart enough to learn from his mistakes – eventually! Lucy also needs to learn to accept that she’s not always in the right. The character arcs these two follow are a real pleasure to read.

The life of the villagers, in both pleasures and pains, felt authentic. The mysteries are intriguing and offer the reader a wide-lens view of a wide variety of issues pertinent to the period.

So if you like a cozy mystery, even if not TOO cozy, with compelling characters, a nice dollop of romance, and a sprinkling of Regency charm and glamour, I’d highly recommend these books.

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