Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while all know that Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire is one of my favourite places in the world, and it features on my blog every year.
Therefore, you can imagine my sister's and my reaction when we were walking past the shop window of "The Little Ripon Bookshop" in the summer and saw this book in the window:
A Death at Fountains Abbey
by Antonia Hodgson
My sister bought it, and after she had read it, she lent it to me. I've had it on my to-be-read pile for many weeks before I finally got round to reading it, and it took me much longer than it should to finish it, mainly because most nights after work I was too tired and my eye sight too bad to do much (or any) reading.
The story is a combination of fact and fiction, and the author kindly has added a chapter at the end of the book where she tells the reader who of her characters and which of the events were real.
In the early 1700, John Aislabie was mainly responsible for a huge financial swindle, involving the highest levels of government, even the Queen and her family. Aislabie somehow managed not to be convicted to death or deportation, merely to be banned from all offices (he was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the big South Sea Bubble) and forced to live out the rest of his life in luxury on his large estate, Studley Royal, near Ripon in Yorkshire.
Those are the historical facts. Antonia Hodgson now adds Thomas Hawkins, a rogueish investigator in the services of the Queen, the hero of two earlier works of historical crime fiction. I'd known neither the author nor her Thomas-Hawkings-series before, and although in this book, it is often alluded to the previous stories, it can very well be read as standalone.
Hawkins is sent to Yorkshire, apparently to "help" Aislabie, but actually he (or, rather, the Queen who sent him) has a hidden agenda. With him are his girlfriend (presented to the high society at Studley as his wife) and his 14-year-old "brother", who is actually a member of one of London's most feared criminal clans.
The beautiful setting of Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey is the backdrop for some hideous crimes. Of course, Hawkins and his loved ones not only get into trouble, but serious danger. Some of the guests staying at Studley are not who or what they seem to be, and how much do John Aislabie and his wife really know?
To make matters more interesting, a young widow appears on the scene, pretending to be John's long-lost daughter... This part of the story really leaves the reader (= me) wondering for a long time.
I really enjoyed this book, and of course had no trouble picturing the scenes. Admittedly, though, I enjoyed it for its settings and not for Thomas Hawkins et al; I couldn't bring myself to like them much or care about what happened to them, and won't go looking for the rest of the series (which is not set in or around Fountains Abbey).
Oh, and it has map! I love books with maps :-)
Antonia Hodgson writes the way I like it - offering detail where needed, but not over-indulging when it is not necessary for the story to develop. She does use some vulgar language where her characters speak or think that way, and if you do not care for the f-word in your books, then don't read this.
The author's website is here.