Today’s team review is from Noelle.
Noelle blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com
Noelle has been reading Foxe And The Black Beast by William Savage
Foxe and the Black Beast is the tenth in the Ashmole Foxe series, and I’ve read every one of them and reviewed most because I find the central character, Ashmole Foxe, so compelling. I’ve enjoyed the way he has evolved from a dandified, hedonistic, man-about-town to a settled, newly married man with a beautiful and very intelligent wife. In this latest adventure, the Dean of Norwich calls on Foxe, a rare bookseller and now recognized as the premier investigator in the city, to find the killer of a member of the clergy. The man, Reverend Bing, who insists on being called Prebendary Bing (a type of canon who has a role in the administration of a cathedral), is found dead at the base of the front steps, his head bashed in.
Bing is a thoroughly unlikeable character – greedy, ignorant, pretentious, disagreeable, penurious, and immune to the needs of the people who are in his spiritual care. The book begins with two chapters devoted to the parishes from which Bing collects tithes that contribute to his income, whether the parishioners can afford it or not. The first is a very poor one, consisting largely of fishermen, the second, a richer one which he also ignores. He has risen to his position of Prebendary and overseer of two parishes largely through toadying to the Church’s higher ups. He imagines himself on the way to becoming a bishop, if he marries well and prevails upon the right people.
I especially enjoyed the first chapter, which described in flowing and evocative prose the northern coast of Norfolk, where the poorer parish is found. The author is at his absolute best in his wonderful descriptions of the countryside and also the city of Norwich. The following chapters describing Bing and the questions surrounding him had me hooked perhaps more than any other book in the series.
Foxe is frustrated with this case, which poses an endless list of questions. Bing was dressed up and went out for the night, but where had he gone and why did he return so late? Why did he frequently venture out dressed as a bishop, when he is really nothing more than a common reverend? And where is his ebony walking cane with the silver knob, which he is never without?
The street children of Norwich are eyes and ears for Foxe and he uses them to help answer some of these questions, but not before hearing that they call him the Black Beast because he is always dressed in black and he frightens and threatens them.
Many of the characters in the previous books return: Foxe’s wife, the clever and much younger Lucy, who helps him when he hits a dead end in his investigations; the Cunning Woman, Mistress Tabby, an herbalist and the source of much information from the street, who took care of a street boy beaten to death by Bing; Mrs. Crombie, an entrepreneurial widow who runs his bookshop very profitably; and Alderman Halloran, Lucy’s uncle and the city’s former mayor, with whom Foxe spends time discussing his investigations and also for whom he purchases rare books.
Foxe finds there are a number of possible murderers with the means and motive to kill Bing, and he follows them in a logical sequence, ending at many dead ends. Some readers might find Foxe’s methods of investigation a bit plodding, but these are Georgian times and life moves at a different pace. The pace is actually enjoyable because it allows the reader to think about the mystery and Foxe’s next steps.
I deduced the killer before the end of the book, but as one who writes mysteries, this is normal. I suspect everyone else will be left hanging until the end. The killer’s identity is unlikely, to say the least.
What more can be said? Mr. Savage’s plots are complex and believable, his settings beautifully described and historically precise, and his characters three-dimensional and compelling. I am a devourer of his mysteries and when I finished this one, it was like finishing a slice of chocolate cake. When will I get the next serving?
Foxe and the Black Beast is one of the best, if not the best, in this series and I highly recommend it.
Ambition, cruelty, arrogance, despair and violent death echo in the silence and darkness of night in the ancient Cathedral Close of Norwich.
A message reaches the Dean of Norwich that a well-known member of the clergy has been found dead close by his doorstep in The Cathedral Close, the side of his head a bloody pulp. The dean’s immediate response is to send for Ashmole Foxe to ask him to investigate and bring the culprit to justice.
Thus begins one of Mr Foxe’s most baffling and frustrating cases. Where had the dead man been that evening to return alone so late at night? Why was he dressed like a bishop, though he was essentially only a country parson? Why live in Norwich when his two parishes were miles away in the Norfolk countryside? Why was nothing taken from the body but an ebony walking-cane with a silver knob on the top? Why were the street children sufficiently frightened of him to name him “The Black Beast”? Who might have hated him so much that violent murder was the only possible action?
Foxe follows trail after trail, each one ending in disappointment, until an unexpected remark sets him on the right path to discovering the answers to these questions and the identity of an unlikely and unwilling killer.
Foxe and The Black Beast is the latest episode in the adventures of Ashmole Foxe, a wealthy 18-century Norwich bookseller and occasional crime solver.
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What a wonderful sounding mystery series. Wonderful review, Noelle.
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