This week, it’s been historical crime fiction: “A Death at Fountains Abbey”, by Antonia Hodgson. I would normally exclude this from “Country Crime” on the basis that prior to the Industrial Revolution, the distinction between rural and city life is less marked, the desire for rural tranquillity less frequently invoked, and much of the city population is recent. Plus I’m not that keen on historical fiction anyway. I’m prepared to make an honourable exception for Lindsay Davies, maybe even Ellis Peters, but my tolerance for gadzookery is remarkably slight.
However, I’m breaking my own rules here for a historical version of the country house party, where Thomas Hawkins (aka “half Hanged Hawkins,”) is sent to Yorkshire by the Queen, to investigate the prime mover behind the South Sea Bubble eight years previously, which sets this firmly in the 1720s. John Aislabie has threatened the Queen with exposure, since he still holds a ledger relating to the financial scandal, and he is asking for help to investigate threats against him. Aislabie now lives close to Fountains Abbey, where he is engaged on an extensive landscaping and rebuilding project. His troubles began when he was joined by his missing daughter, who was believed to have died in a fire as an infant.
Needless to say, everyone has a secret – and almost everyone is a real historical figure, apparently. The pacing is excellent, the resonances with modern banking scandals sufficiently evident that the plot has relevance, and the lively Hawkins and his wife Kitty make sympathetic protagonists. It’s sent me straight off to read the first in the series (this is the third). There were a great number of references to Hawkins’ previous adventures, and I want to see if my opinion changes with greater knowledge of the story so far.
As a side note, there was an interesting debate recently about star ratings for books. I don’t use stars, but have an internal system that goes something like this: Ha! (cry of triumph) means I’ve found a good one. Ho-hum means this is passable. Humph means I’ve just wasted my time. For what it’s worth, I’m looking on this one as a Ha!