Tuesday, December 05, 2006
A Body In Berkeley Square by Ashley Gardner
This book was published by Penguin as a Berkley Prime Crime Mystery and tagged “A Mystery of Regency England.” It is not romance. It is not suspense. Rather, it is the story of murder in the ton, solved with elegance by Captain Lacey, the book’s single narrator and leading character. I loved it.
Captain Lacey, the story’s only POV, is an interesting man. Instantly likeable. Not a member of the ton, but a ‘working’ man who served alongside bluebloods in the Peninsular War. So, outwardly, he is the sort to get along with everyone—be they privileged or destitute. Inwardly, we learn very quickly that Lacey is neither bland diplomat nor bumbling detective. He is forthright, quick witted, self deprecating, compassionate, stubborn, and the list goes on. In short, he is his own man.
In this story, Lacey investigates a murder for which the prime suspect has already been arrested, lodged at Newgate and ordered to trial. The suspect is Lacey’s former commanding officer and through a shared past and what appears to be a shared love (of sorts), we learn as much about Lacey as we do about the motive for murder. Gardner confounds readers with the mystery—a tricky whodunit—all the while bringing Lacey to life. Seamless. Smart.
Aside from a shared past with the alleged murderer, Lacey has ties to a number of other characters—at least half of whom play a role in the murder investigation. Again, Gardner deftly uses these relationships to further both the plot and Lacey’s characterization. And, despite the first person POV, Gardner succeeds in bringing Lacey’s cohorts to life with equal color and sound.
So, through his shared history, present circumstances and dialogue throughout, we learn much of Lacey’s character. The rest we derive from his own thoughts. Happily (for readers), Gardner applies the same subtlety when building Lacey’s character through the use of internal thoughts. No life story summations to clue readers. Just the comedy and tragedy found in one’s own thoughts. Gave him a depth and an unexpected vulnerability that appealed to me. Again, he is a very interesting character. Charged with unraveling a crafty whodunit. Excellent, excellent read.
Note: This appears to be the fifth book in Gardner’s Captain Lacey’s Regency Mystery series. And, without drilling too deeply into her website, I see mention that the first three books in the series are out of print. I enjoyed this one so much however, that I will scour libraries online until I have located and read the entire series.