Reviews by L. J. Roberts


ROBIN BLAKE – Secret Mischief. Cragg & Fidelis #7. Severn House, hardcover, May 2021. Setting: Lancashire, England, 1746.

First Sentence: It was on a breezy Monday in April 1746 that I received a letter from a townsman of Ormskirk.

   A letter from a townsman of Ormskirk sends County Coroner Titus Cragg, and his friend Dr. Luke Fidelis, to the farm of Richard Giggleswick. There they find Geoffrey, the farmer’s potent boar, has been shot. Several days later, they are asked to return but now it is Giggleswick who is dead; murdered. They discover Giggleswick was one of six people involved in a Tontine; an agreement where each member contributed an amount of money to be claimed by the last surviving member. The one person who did not join was attorney Ambrose Parr.

   One learns about a great deal about the legal system of the 18th century. This was a time when the accused had no right to subpoena witnesses, have their lawyers argue the case for them, or testify on their own behalf. This was not a time when justice was served, especially for the poor. The period is presented in stark and painful accuracy.

   There are a fair number of characters, several of whom, though relevant, are dead before the story even begins. One that had the potential for being interesting, Giggleswick’s daughter, is shuffled off almost immediately. Of our two protagonists, Titus comes across as weak and rather incompetent. He leaves his judgment up to the intuition of his clerk. Rather than conducting a full investigation, he is influenced by the opinion of others until it’s too late. Fidelis, especially for a doctor, is bigoted and judgmental, willing to cost a life.

   The period is well conveyed, from the descriptions to the dialogue which has a sense of the time without being uncomfortable. In general, a plot involving a tontine can be suspenseful, but the author waited late into the story before creating any real sense of grave danger. Although there are several twists, they aren’t effective enough to save the story.

    Secret Mischief  is a muddled, rather unpleasant take on And Then There Were None, with the protagonists being annoyingly weak, and the ending patently absurd.

Rating: Poor.