Review: Petteril’s Corpse by Mary Lancaster (2023)

Posted March 10, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is book 2 in the series, and although this could be read as a stand-alone, it will certainly be more meaningful if you read the first book beforehand. This is another short read, an intriguing murder to solve, some interesting locals in the frame, a mini-romance on the side and (the star attraction) the developing and most unusual relationship between the hero and heroine.

Here’s the premise: Piers, Viscount Petteril, is getting used to the title he’s unexpectedly inherited which has dragged him away from an academic life at Oxford. Having tidied up his London house, it’s time to turn his attention to his country seat. I couldn’t quite work out where this was (if a county was mentioned, I missed it) but since he drove there in his curricle without difficulty, it’s got to be close to London. Although I was a bit surprised to hear that the countryside was devoid of humans – only fields and woods, apparently. Whatever happened to all the villages strung along every road in England?

Piers chooses to take his reclaimed thief from book 1 with him, now reluctantly assuming her proper identity as a girl (April instead of Ape), complete with long skirts and a servant’s cap. She’s his ‘assistant’, apparently, despite having only just begun learning to read and write. Just as they come within the environs of Piers’ land, April smells smoke and not the healthy kind – someone’s burning clothes, and her gutter-bred soul is outraged by this waste. But when they investigate, they find it’s a lot worse than that – a man’s naked body, stabbed through the heart. Without his clothes, how can they possibly identify him?

Thus begins the murder investigation, which goes the way such tales usually go. There’s a range of possible suspects, all with motives to possibly want the man dead, but which of them did it? I have to say, I didn’t find this one difficult to work out, but then the fun of a book like this is not the identity of the murderer, but the hoops the protagonists have to go through to get there.

Along the way, Piers is tentatively getting to know the neighbours, who remember him as the runty youngest of the cousins, who was pushed around a lot and no one thought would ever amount to anything. April is finding her feet as an ‘assistant’, while also helping out in a multitude of different ways around the house. She it is who takes over the organisation of an afternoon party from the housekeepers, and this is one of the bones of contention I have with this book. April has (presumably) spent her whole life in the gutter, living from hand to mouth, and mingling with the worst sort of lowlifes in the slums of London. But give her a hand out of there, teach her a bit of reading and writing, and in no time she’s taking copious notes for Piers, and telling the housekeeper (a woman trained over many years in the ways of the aristocracy) how to organise a party. The words ‘Mary Sue’ hover in very close proximity to her head.

Piers isn’t much better. Runty academics tend not to know much about dead bodies, but Piers talks quite happily about rigor mortis to the magistrate, and arm-waves it away with a casual reference to knowing some medical students at Oxford. His other superpower is not recognising people’s faces unless he’s seen them a lot, but this is something that flickers on and off, as the plot requires it. He also appears to be an Oscar-worthy actor, again, when the plot requires it. So what with that and April’s astonishing learning ability, there’s quite a bit of suspension of disbelief required.

One other (minor) complaint. There’s quite a bit of sloppiness in the writing, as if the author forgot a final edit. There are words missing, incorrect punctuation, repetition (we’re told a character has no grey in her hair twice just a few paragraphs apart). It’s not a big deal, it just looks untidy.

But overall, this was a fun read, and for anyone who likes a blend of cosy mystery in a Regency background, I recommend the series. Only those over-powered main characters keep this to four stars.



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