Not that it was bad; it wasn’t. It wasn’t great, either, but I didn’t not want to finish it. It’s just … it was hard gathering up the energy and inclination.
The plot: Kathryn Ardleigh is an aspiring writer in New York City, creating stories for ‘penny-dreadfuls,’ the precursor of pulp fiction. One day she is stopped on the street by a detective, who later informs her that her long-lost aunt has invited her to work for her. In her manor house in Colchester, England. Well, that’s just the adventure Kate’s been looking for, and since she’s cutely impulsive, she says yes and barrels off.
Meanwhile, Sir Charles Sheridan, an amateur almost-everything, it seems like, is taking pictures of an archaeological dig when a student almost literally stumbles onto a dead man. (During the entire archaeological dig scene, I had a running commentary about Tannis and digging in the wrong place [man, I’ve totally got to watch that movie on Wednesday after class or during class, with the subtitles on].) Anyway, Sir Charles accompanies his friend Bradford* to pick up Bradford’s sister, Eleanor, from the train and meets Kate, who was traveling to Colchester. Kate expresses a strong interest in the murder, which is weird for the Brits, but they chalk it up to her American-ness.
Kate meets her Aunt Sabrina and her other Aunt, Bernice Jaggers. Sabrina is nice and quiet, and Jaggers is a cold-hearted bitch. Picture … Nicole Kidman as Aunt Sabrina, and the woman who played Aunt Marge in Prisoner of Azkaban as Aunt Jaggers. Kate notices how Jaggers holds something over Sabrina in order to maintain control and order over the household.
Sabrina is also a member of an occultist church, the Order of the Golden Dawn. Kate and Sir Charles investigate the death of the stranger in the pit, but about two-thirds of the way through, Kate becomes more concerned with what’s going on with her aunts at the house (oh, right – Sabrina’s house is the titular Bishop’s Keep). The story passes back and forth between Kate and Charles, so we keep up with Charles as he continues investigating the dead dude, but it’s really through happenstance that Kate manages to come up with the answer.
Overall, the book is kind of … twee? But not really? I … it’s predictable. I think it tries too hard to be a) true to the Victorian language, while b) setting Kate up as a self-sufficient heroine who’s smarter than the average bear, and c) is too cute with its “Oh look! All the mysteries are connected! Somewhat!” I will admit that the murderer was a surprise at first, but once all the pieces fall into place, it couldn’t have gone any other way. I also give the book ‘props’ for showing a realistic poisoning, and completely eschewing the Victorian norms of not talking about bodily functions. In a word: ew.
Anyway. It was good, I guess? I dunno – it took me way too long to read. And I’m not sure I can attribute it to the plot of the novel, or if I was just too damn busy for it. But, come on – it’s less than 300 pages, and there weren’t any huge vocab words to look up.
So, the asterisk (*): there’s a character named Bradford. Bradford’s full name is Bradford Marsden. This is, really, the main reason I kept reading, and why I may read the next novel. One of my favorite ex-co-workers and sort-of-good friends is named Brad Very-Similiar-Sounding-To-Marsden. I really, really wanted Bradford to have a middle name that began with ‘R’, so the next time my Brad did something stupid (like leave his beer in my fridge after I said my apartment is like the National Parks, carry-in, carry-out, leave no trace), I could yell “BRADFORD RUTHERFORD MARSDEN” at him.
Grade for Death at Bishop’s Keep: 2 stars