It Would Be a Crime to Miss the Robert Carey Mysteries!
The Australian Romance Readers Association runs a loop where people talk about books they’ve been reading each month. I’m so glad I’m a member because someone mentioned a series of mysteries set in the Elizabethan era featuring a dashing hero called Robert Carey. As you can imagine, these sounded right up my alley so I picked up A Famine of Horses, the first book in this series by P.F. Chisholm (who also writes as Patricia Finney). Well, I was hooked! And I hope you’ll take my recommendation and give these a go – because I think you’ll be hooked too.
A Famine of Horses introduces our intrepid hero, cousin to the queen and all-round good guy, if a little hotheaded, Sir Robert Carey (a historical character). Sir Robert tires of life as a courtier to the aging and capricious Elizabeth and gains a post as Deputy Warden in the lawless marches between Scotland and England. There he’s thrown into a maelstrom of danger and violence with threats from the previous deputy warden (who isn’t happy to be replaced) and the ruthless reivers who run wild over the disputed lands pursuing enrichment and complicated family feuds.
Corruption, jealousy, violence, crime, and all the seven deadly sins run rife in this part of the world. Sir Robert must find his feet immediately or have them cut out from beneath him. Especially when he realizes that the sudden dearth of horses locally means major shenanigans afoot with the nefarious border lords. And of course there’s a murder or two for him to solve along the way! The deputy warden is the force of law and order – but law and order is a very rare and terrifyingly fragile thing in these isolated parts.
While the plot and setting are brilliantly handled, the joy of this book is the characters. Sir Robert is an absolute delight – a man of honor surrounded by a sea of dishonor. He’s also clever and brave and inclined to act impetuously, a trait which leads our hero into numerous perilous situations. He’s witty, loyal and generous, and ready to trust to luck. This story also offers up a cast of fascinating offsiders – the eccentric, occasionally endearing, but always unpredictable clan leaders responsible for so much mayhem; Robert’s practical sister Philadelphia; his dreamy and ineffectual brother-in-law Lord Scrope who is nominally his boss; the baddies including the venal and spiteful Sir Richard Lowther, the former deputy warden who certainly doesn’t fight fair. There’s also a vivid cast of Sir Robert’s subordinates, including his scrofulous servant Barnabus, his skeptical and gloomy sergeant Dodd, his shambolic troop of armed men, and his true love Elizabeth Widdrington, unhappily married to a vile and jealous old man.
Elizabeth makes a wonderful heroine – and I love that she’s not gorgeously beautiful but comes across as such a wonderful person that you can see why Sir Robert loves her. She’s as resourceful and brave as he is, and just as much in love. But she’s also possessed of an unshakable honor so poor Robert has to pine from a distance. Nothing like a bit of forbidden love to brighten things up!
Having had enormous fun with A Famine for Horses and having developed a bit of a crush on the open-hearted Sir Robert, I immediately bought A Season of Knives, book 2. This continues immediately after the events in book 1 (one of the things that’s a little unusual about this series is the tight time frame – book 1 is set in June 1592. Book 2 is set in early July. Book 3 is set in that same July – phew, it’s a whirlwind!). Sir Robert is once more up to his elbows in murder, except that now he’s the principal suspect. He also has to foil a plot to kidnap Elizabeth, and keep a lid on the area’s nobles. Just another day at the office. The romantic relationship develops nicely in this one and you’ll have a few sigh-worthy moments amongst all the swashbuckling. It’s also lovely seeing Sir Robert gradually creating an efficient fighting troop out of the cynical and disillusioned men he inherited from his predecessor. One of my favorite characters is the perennially gloomy Sergeant Dodd who really doesn’t want to like his new commander, but somehow can’t stop himself – and we get to meet his daunting wife in this episode. These stories are a wonderful mixture of suspense and comedy and drama with a strong emotional underpinning. I think I enjoyed this second installment even more than the first.
Book 3, A Surfeit of Guns, has a slightly more somber tone but there’s still plenty of derring-do and adventure and wit to keep us entertained.This time there’s skulduggery with a shipment of arms for the woefully under-resourced garrison at Carlisle Castle where Sir Robert is based and the trail leads all the way to King James of Scotland. Given the queen’s advanced age, everyone knows that James is likely to become the new king of England – and this oversensitive, clever, paranoid man is a difficult piece of work. So is nearly everyone at his court. Sir Robert finds himself caught up in the middle of a political wrangle that threatens to bring him down – and his lady love with him. High stakes in this one!
What did I do once I finished A Surfeit of Guns?
Of course, you know! I went and bought book 4, A Plague of Angels, which I’m very much looking forward to reading this weekend. I’m expecting the same mixture of wonderful characters, witty dialogue, vivid descriptions and exciting plotting. And I’m also looking forward to the next step in Elizabeth and Robert’s star-crossed courtship.
These books are just the thing if you want a quick, engrossing read (they’re all about 250 pages). I bet you too develop a crush on the dashing Sir Robert Carey!