Fiction: “Death at Gallows Green” by Robin Paige

gallows greenI’ll be honest; I wasn’t even planning on reading this title. I’m not even sure why I decided to read it. Hell, I can’t remember when I bought it — all I know is that I was cleaning house and happened to find a bag of books that I had bought … maybe at the Library book sale? I didn’t get it at Bull Moose; it doesn’t have the Bull Moose sticker on it. Anyway, this book was in the bag, I went “huh,” and somehow I ended up reading it.

And while I don’t remember purchasing it, I do remember that when I had read the first book – holy shit, five years ago! – I had wanted to keep reading the series because I had a question that needed answering. Clearly I didn’t care enough to find the next book in the series immediately.

Because seriously, this is the only thing I remember from that first book: the main character moves to England and meets a dude, and this dude has a friend named Bradford Marsden. As I alluded in the review of the first book, I have a friend whose name is very similar-sounding to the character’s name, and at the time, I really wanted to learn if the character had a middle name that I could use on my friend when he was in trouble. At the time, I was working at L.L. Bean with my friend, and he would routinely leave his time-off requests on my keyboard instead of the folder clearly marked “Time Off Requests,” and … oh yeah, bring in expired popcorn for everyone to eat. Shit like that. He wasn’t being mean, honestly, he was just being funny. He put the time-off requests on my keyboard because he would make a stink about people doing the same thing to him when he was a manager, and he’s a fan of teasing traditions. And while I know he didn’t buy that expired popcorn when he said he had (it was dated DECEMBER 2005 and he brought it in DECEMBER 2010 THERE IS NO WAY SHAW’S HAD A FIVE-YEAR-OLD BOX OF ORVILLE REDENBACHER ON THEIR SHELVES), I know he didn’t bring in expired popcorn on purpose.

So when I first learned about Bradford Marsden, I wanted to see if he had a good middle name that began with “R,” because I was tired of making up middle names for my friend (my favorite being Rutherford). The first book didn’t provide it, and I was hoping this book would give me what I wanted. Sadly, I have yet to learn the character’s middle name. So … guess I’ll be reading the third book at some point. (*looks up series on Goodreads* holy crap, there’s twelve of these? My question had better get answered)

I guess the best descriptor of this series would be as a “cozy mystery:” a mystery set in an intimate community that is solved by an amateur detective (so not a policeman), and usually there’s a lot of conversation and not much sex and/or violence. The main character is Kathryn Ardleigh, who has inherited Bishop’s Keep from her dead aunts. She goes to visit some friends and meets a shy woman who has a lot of pets, and the woman turns out to be Beatrix Potter. As I peruse the Goodreads site some more, I learn that as this series progresses, it becomes less about the mystery and more about the historical figures that Kate and her friend-slash-person-she-thinks-she-might-like-which-is-convenient-because-he-likes-her-too-but-she-doesn’t-realize-it-yet Charles Sheridan meet. In addition, the author — who is actually the pseudonym of Susan Wittig Albert and her husband, Bill, writing together — went on to write another series starring Beatrix Potter as the mystery-solver.

Good goddamn, there are a lot of hyphens and dashes in that above paragraph. I am so sorry.

ANYWAY, a constable is shot, and Charles gets involved because he’s an amateur criminologist, and Kate gets involved because her servant is the one who finds the body, and also she’s nosy. The more Charles investigates, the more dangerous the case becomes, and he becomes increasingly protective of Kate because she refuses to sit back and let the men investigate.

Also, every single man in this book (and I mean that in terms of men that are single) has something going on with Kate. Constable Ed Larkin is teaching Kate how to ride a bicycle (because this series takes place in the late 1800s, remember), and the friendship between Kate and Larkin is enough to make Charles think that something’s going on between them, so Charles takes a step back and lets Larkin pursue Kate, should he choose to do so. (Except Larkin actually has a thing for the widow of the dead constable, so that makes things slightly awkward).

And then Bradford’s kind of … y’know, I’ll get to Bradford in a minute. Anyway, Kate is starting to think she likes Charles, but she’s not sure, and it’s not really important for her — she wants to find out what happened to the dead constable more than if Charles like-likes her. Which, good for her; murder over men, I always say. (NOTE: I never say that.)

SO THE PLOT. It turns out the constable was murdered because there’s some grain smuggling going on and he got too close to figuring out who the culprit was and he was killed for it. There’s some police corruption going on, and so the case isn’t investigated to its fullest at first, but between Larkin’s tenacity, Charles’s physical evidence, and Kate’s gumption, the case is solved, and Larkin goes to marry the widow who also loves him, which takes the awkward away and Charles finds a way to approach Kate so that they might start dating.

And I just realized I mentioned Beatrix Potter but then never really talked about her. Uh, she and Kate become friends, and Beatrix becomes inspired by Kate’s independence and resolves to go home and publish her little tales herself and hopefully she’ll be able to get out from under her parents’ thumbs. So congrats, Kate Ardleigh? I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen evidence of a character inspiring a real person to get herself published. (This whole, “writing real people into fiction” stuff boggles my mind at times.)

Overall, my opinion of the series remains the same: it’s very twee. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; occasionally, I am in the mood for a cozy mystery. It’s just not my typical cup of tea. I doubt that if it weren’t for the infernal question of “what IS Bradford’s middle name, this is KILLING ME (but not really),” i probably wouldn’t continue with the series.

OH RIGHT BRADFORD. Okay, so … he doesn’t play a big role in this book. But when Kate’s at her elegant dinner party, she speaks with Bradford’s sister Eleanor, who is concerned, because …

“There has been a theft, Kate. One of the servants has stolen my mother’s antique emeralds.” [p. 37]

And I didn’t think anything of it, until …

“If it is true that the footman took the jewels,” Kate said gently, “the moral fault is his, not yours. Have you taken your suspicions to your father or to your brother Bradford?” [p. 39]

AT WHICH POINT I SAID:

“Brad did it. I MEAN Bradford did it. Duh. It’s ALWAYS Brad… ford.” [p. ME]

NO SERIOUSLY:

Yes, I dated it and initialed it. I don't want you thinking I did this just now.SURE ENOUGH and also SPOILER ALERT: Bradford took the emeralds and pawned them as collateral on a loan. That rat bastard. BUT he got the money back so he put the emeralds back and basically he didn’t learn his lesson.

Although he did think, for a moment, that he was going to marry Kate Ardleigh in order to a) finally get married, as a baron should do, and b) finance himself for life, except his mother put a stop to it because — *gasp!* — Miss Ardleigh rides a bicycle and is therefore not respectable.

And because Bradford doesn’t really love Kate, just her money, and he is easily cowed by his mother … he doesn’t ever see Kate again. He’s basically Tom shaking off Lindsay’s advances after Gob gives his sexual harassment speech before the Bluth Company Christmas Party in “Afternoon Delight.” (Arrested Development fans know exactly what I’m talking about.)

So if you like cozy mysteries, sure, go ahead and read this book. If I come across Death at Daisy’s Folly, which is apparently what the third book is titled, I’ll probably read it.  But I’m not going to actively search for it.

Grade for Death at Gallows Green: 2 stars

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