Today’s team review is from Noelle. She blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com
Noelle has been reading Foxe and the Cost of Wild Oats by William Savage
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.
“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.