‘Foxe is one of those unforgettable characters’. Noelle reviews #HistoricalMystery Foxe and the Cost of Wild Oats by William Savage @penandpension

Today’s team review is from Noelle. She blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Noelle has been reading Foxe and the Cost of Wild Oats by William Savage

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This is the ninth in the Ashmole Foxe mystery series by this author, and I will admit front and center that I have read every one of them. I find Foxe to be one of those unforgettable characters and thoroughly enjoy the colorful environment of Georgian times in Norwich, which the author has researched perhaps better than any other author.

Ashmole Foxe is a bookseller in Norwich and is rather well-to-do from the sales of his bookstore and also his ability to find and sell rare books for significant profit. When he was first introduced, he was something of a rake – dressing colorfully, enjoying the theatre, expending some of his physical energies with high class ladies of the night – in other words sowing his wild oats.  As his ability to solve murders gained him a reputation with Norwich’s leaders, he became more refined and somewhat more sedate, leading him to affairs with societally reputable women and eventually to a relationship with a young woman many years his junior, to whom he proposed: Lucy.

This current outing of Norwich’s most famous sleuth is told from two points of view in Foxe and the Cost of Wild Oats: Ashmole’s and Lucy’s. It entails more than just the investigation of the death of a well-liked merchant, brutally murdered, but also the adjustment of both of them to married life. The difference in their ages, the lingering recognition of Ashmole’s previous reputation, Lucy’s steep learning curve as mistress of a substantial household, and her inclusion in Ashmole’s work all figure into the search for the killer.

As I would expect from a book by this author, the merchant. A Mr. Hartley, whose body is found on a quay by the River Wensum, is not what he appears to be. The scandalous behavior of his wife, his closeted life, and his unusual business arrangements created a lot of questions for this reader.

Do I like this book better than the others in the series? On the positive side, the murder, as always in this series, is just the tip of the iceberg. The author overlays it with layers upon layers of confusion, obsessive secrecy and cunning deception, leading the search for the killer to a series of solutions that have the reader believing this is the one – only to be as flummoxed as Ashmole when it hits a dead end.  On this basis, I think this is one of the best books in the series.  Plus the author spends time acquainting his readers with more of Norwich – the streets, the waterfront, businesses and the way they are run –all colorful and interesting.

On the negative side, I found the couple’s interactions occasionally overlong, silly and distracting, especially those leading up to a romp in the bedroom. Lucy can be petulant and childish, which is understandable for a young woman not yet in her twenties but made me wonder why Ashmole chose her for a wife. Lucy is bright and insightful, but I’d personally hoped he would marry the widow Crombie, who runs the bookshop for him – an older, wiser and very smart woman.  But marrying the niece of the Mayor of Norwich, an old friend, gives Ashmole an advantage with regard to his investigations and his position with the city’s leaders.

Ashmole’s detailed involvement with the street children of Norwich is a draw for me as a reader. There was less of that here, although the children provide critical investigative clues from their use in shadowing suspects and stakeouts. Many of the lesser but very colorful characters in the previous tales are nicely reintroduced.

This latest outing of Savage’s Georgian sleuth was a fun read, one which left me unsatisfied and wanting more.

Desc 1

“Remember this. Those who sow their wild oats without thought for others, sometimes live to reap a bitter harvest.”

Foxe and Lucy have had only two weeks to savour the pleasures of matrimony when a well-liked city merchant is found brutally murdered at the quay by the River Wensum. At once, they are drawn into the hunt for his killer. All agree that Josiah Hartley was an inoffensive, upright man and not at all the type to die in such a violent way. Yet someone hated him enough to want him killed. Who was it? His adulterous wife? An angry competitor? Someone he had cheated?

From the start of their investigation, Foxe and his new wife encounter layers upon layers of confusion, obsessive secrecy and cunning deception. Why did Mr Hartley condone the scandalous behaviour of his wife for so many years? What was the reason for the strangely complex way he had arranged his finances? By what means were the ownership and value of his successful business excluded from his Will?

Only after determined efforts, backed by all Foxe’s experience and cunning, are he and Lucy able to thread their way through a bewildering maze of dead ends, irrelevant diversions and carefully hidden pathways to reveal the identity of a vicious killer.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalMystery Foxe And The Path Into Darkness by William Savage @penandpension #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Noelle. She blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Noelle has been reading Foxe And The Path Into Darkness by William Savage

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I had been awaiting this latest Ashmole Foxe mystery since the author told me it was on its way. I am an unrepentant fan of this mystery series, and I bought a copy for review.

Ashmole Foxe Ashmole Foxe is a bookseller in Norwich, England, during the Georgian era. He is well-to-do from the sales of his bookstore and also his ability to find and sell rare books for significant profit. All of this he finds mundane, and over the years he has acquired a solid reputation for solving murders, which has become his raison d’etre. 

The story:

Ashmole Foxe is tasked by the City Alderman to locate the mayor of Norwich, Robert Belton, who seems to have disappeared. Belton is well limned by the author as a middle aged man who became mayor by luck rather than talent, since the title and the task is awarded traditionally by seniority. The unexpected deaths of several more senior alderman moved Belton to the top of the list.  It is clear even to Belton that he is not worthy of the job, being regarded as a lightweight by the other Alderman, and furthermore, not having the wealth required by a Mayor to pay for the traditional mayoral social duties. His wife thoroughly dislikes him, and he has taken a prosperous business handed to him at his father’s death and run it into the ground with poor management, theft, and disinterest. His attempts as mayor to make changes in Norwich are met with resistance from his fellow Aldermen, and he does what he usually does – drops whatever he is fixed on and moves on to something equally unlikely to succeed. This is the man Foxe is to find, even though it is clear that his wife doesn’t want him found and the Aldermen are only asking because of the difficulty in not having a mayor to lead the city.

The job comes at a perfect time for Foxe, who has been listless and bored for several months, all of the women in his life – none of them truly serious relationships – having moved on. In the course of receiving this task from Alderman Halloran, a close friend, Foxe is reacquainted with the younger of the two nieces who live with Halloran, Miss Lucy Halloran. Both nieces have recently returned from an extended stay in Paris, and Lucy has morphed from a “dear, awkward, wayward, unconventional and bright” girl to a desirable and beautiful woman in Foxe’s eyes.  Foxe is instantly smitten and rendered speechless. Lucy displays some of her youth in berating Foxe for not having corresponded with her in Paris, souring their initial meeting.

The two story lines become intertwined as Foxe soon discovers a complex tangle of events with no real leads. He makes little progress, reaching one dead end after another, until Lucy helps him find the right threads. As usual, he uses the street children of Norwich, Mrs. Crombie, the manager of his bookstore, and Mistress Tabby, an herbalist and Wise Woman, to help him track down clues and news. The descent into darkness is both Foxe’s own, as he despairs of ever winning Lucy’s affection, but also that of Robert Belton, as the reader learns.

My take on this book:

There were several lovely aspects of this book, in addition to the colorful characters populating Foxe’s world, ones I have grown to enjoy. First is an exquisite description of Norwich through Foxe’s eyes, as he takes his roundabout walk to his favorite coffee house each morning. The author’s historical knowledge of Georgian times and Norwich in particular is prodigious and his characters are memorable. The second is the total frustration that grows in the reader when every step taken by Foxe is a false one. And third is the character of Belton himself, whose point of view opens the book.  I think his point of view is a necessary prequel to what follows. And finally, there is a lot of physical action at the end of the book. For a Georgian mystery, which moves at the pace of the time, this is a sea change.

The only unsettling aspect, to my mind, is the relationship between Foxe and Lucy. She begins with a childlike temper tantrum, and yet Foxe falls immediately in love with this seventeen-year-old. Foxe is in his early thirties, by my reckoning, and is a man of the world! Even though the age of consent at the time was twelve for girls, I found the age difference and the speed with which Foxe was consumed by physical thoughts of Lucy a little disconcerting. But this is probably my own view through modern eyes. I might add, having read the other books, that is past time for Mr. Foxe to have a serious, reciprocated relationship, so bravo to the author.

All in all, I highly recommend this book as a worthy addition to this mystery series, and anyone who has read the previous books will heartily enjoy this one. It is dark, but also surprising. To those who haven’t yet met Ashmole Foxe, you can start here without any problem since the author brings the reader up to date.

Desc 1

When the mayor of Norwich disappears without trace roughly half-way through his term of office, the entire city government is thrown into chaos. Every thought turns to Mr Foxe, who is told to make finding the mayor his single priority. Nothing must stand in the way of achieving that goal. Nothing.

Foxe, listless and bored, has not had a mystery worthy of his attention for several months. He’s also still hurting from Lady Cockerton’s treatment of him. Even his oddly platonic friendship with Mrs Danson must end in two days, when she finally leaves Norwich for good. Perhaps a mystery will put some life back into him?

Before he can even begin, an unexpected encounter in Alderman Halloran’s hallway turns Foxe’s life upside down, so that for three days of confusion and anguish he can do nothing but struggle with an overwhelming crisis in his own life. The search for the mayor is forgotten.

At length, with help from an unexpected source, Foxe sets out doggedly on the trail of the missing man. He soon finds he must unravel a complex and unexpected tangle of events to get anywhere. Blocked and frustrated many times, he finally reveals the slow descent into darkness and an inevitable fate that lies behind what seemed a simple puzzle.

All the time, he is still struggling with a problem that threatens to wreck his entire future. Just as he sees a path ahead that offers the possibility of undreamed-of joy and happiness, he finds he may well have managed to block it completely before he can even set out. Can he find his way through this tangle as well?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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