Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The heart and stomach of a king

While I'm waiting for the next installment of Sharan Newman's medieval mystery book to arrive in the mail, I borrowed Karen Harper's The Poyson Garden from the library. (It is also a murder mystery series, though it is not medieval...)

The first in a mystery series where Elizabeth I is the sleuth, the story was rather generic (except for the future-queen-of-England-as-detective thing, obviously). Someone is out to kill off the extended Boleyn family and prevent Elizabeth from inheriting the throne (the story takes place the year Mary I died, so it was a little obvious how the last chapter would end). But Harper seemed more concerned with assembling characters to appear in future stories, not necessarily with developing a compelling murder mystery. Personally, I think mysteries are kind of cop-outs if the villain winds up being a lone crazy woman, dubbed a witch, who poisons everybody she has no connection to .... and they're surprisingly common in the genre (sometimes they're men, though). The characters were all fairly one-dimensional, and several loose ends were not wrapped up (like one character's amnesia) -- clearly some themes will keep running throughout the books later in the series.

I held out hope that the story wouldn't be mediocre. Obviously, the heroine couldn't come to any harm (historically, at least) . But Harper threw in one character who was supposed to resemble Elizabeth, so I thought maybe she'd pull a Dumas and have a double become the Princess. (What's the obsession with royal lookalikes, btw?) But alas, the few signs of creativity were minor homages to history: Harper skillfully refers to but doesn't interpret the Tom Seymour affair. She also deliberately resurrects Mary Boleyn, whom the reader is supposed to believe has been secretly alive for over a decade. Plus, the ending scene where Elizabeth finds out she's been made Queen (conveniently just after solving the mystery) has Elizabeth uttering the line she supposedly actually did when she heard her half-sister died, though it was bizarrely out of context with her very modern speech patterns throughout the rest of the story. Despite those small tidbits, though, the mystery itself still wasn't overwhelmingly good.

I've ordered the second book in the series, to see if it gets any better.

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