The seventh book in the Captain Lacey series, to be published November 2011.
Captain Lacey travels with Lady Breckenridge to his boyhood home in northern Norfolk only to discover mysterious happenings in and around the Lacey estate. The underworld criminal, James Denis, uses Lacey's visit to Norfolk as an opportunity to have Lacey deliver a message to a local squire. A simple task--but one that lands Lacey squarely in international theft and murder.
Captain Gabriel Lacey is travelling to his ancestral home in Norfolk, as his betrothed wants to see it. He hasn’t been there in 20 years, and has many unhappy memories of the place. His only happy ones are those of his mother, his father was a tyrant and a brute of a man, always punishing them. His father has been death the past 8 years or so, and the place is partly ruined already.
He has also been tasked by James Denis, one of London’s lord of the underworld, to bring a letter to one of his neighbours. And as part of paying his debt to Denis, he has agreed to deliver it. Brigadier Easton is not happy to receive it, he is sure his days are numbered. So Captain Lacey helps him to escape on a fishing boat to Amsterdam. The next day, Denis’ thugs are tearing down the house, looking for stolen paintings Easton was supposed to deliver to Denis. They are also prepared to tear down the Lacey mansion, as it is a great hiding place as it has been abandoned for years. Captain Lacey doesn’t mind overmuch, if only they clear up the debris as well. The house needs to be gutted down before it can be restored.
When one of Denis’ men is found murdered, and his number one man missing, Denis takes residence in Easton House, and tasks Lacey with the job of finding Mr. Collins. He does not want to believe that Collins murdered this other man. Which puts Captain Lacey in a difficult position. He is expected to be social at the house of Lady Southwick, where his fiancée, Lady Donata Anne Catherine St. John, Dowager Viscountess Breckenridge, is residing as well.
But he does owe Denis as lot, so he agrees to go search the countryside and the marshes for the man.
And then, there is a local mystery to be solved when stolen silver from the chapel is found inside the Lacey kitchen chimney. If miss Helena Quinn really did elope with her admirer, and took the silver to finance their life together, why hide it? And how come no one has heard from her since she disappeared 10 years ago? Or is this another one of those village secrets, that everyone knows of but no one speaks about?
Some unpleasant discoveries are also made when his mother’s diary is found. And Gabriel has to face them, and live with them.
Ashley Gardner is another penname for Jennifer Ashley and Allison James. I love the historicals and her shifter series by Jennifer Ashley a lot, they are very well written, and filled with humor and wit and strong heroines, and original plots. I also love the Stormwalker series by Allison James. Have not yet read her other, more “hot” series.
So I am a bit disappointed that the humor I have grown accustomed to, does not appear in this book. It took me a while to get immersed in the story, and I really regret that I have not read the other books in this series first (which are out of print, but available as ebooks everywhere). But I was thrilled to get an ARC of this book.
I do wonder and admire how one and the same person can write so many different toned books.
I did like Captain Gabriel Lacey. He at first appears straight laced, but that is not the thing in the end. He is a wounded war hero, with no means, but his lady set her sights on him, and she caught him. The few scenes between them are nice. Lady Donata is certainly strong willed, she is a widow with a young boy, Peter. Her husband treated her badly, and she is determined never to listen to another man again, or do something because if would make them feel better. As she is very rich, she can do whatever she wants. So to persuade her to do something, is not an easy job. Also, she smokes cheroots, and can beat him at billiards and crocket.
As befits a cozy, the personal relationship is not a focus point in the book, the mystery is. Captain Lacey is determined to find out what he is after. Not only where the missing Mr. Collins is, but also what happened at his house 10 years ago, and with Helena. Even though Denis orders him to focus everything on Mr. Collins, he won’t give up.
As a secondary character, there is his friend Lord Grenville, who helps with the search and with his carriage, when Captain Lacey gets too tired to walk or ride more. Their manservants are brothers, so do they know a lot of what happens even before they meet.
Then there is James Denis, one of London’s lords of the underworld. He certainly knows many things about what happens. He intrigues me, and he does tell some things about his own background. He is remorseless, and cold and determined. Also without a single friend.
The mystery part is very good, I certainly did not figure it out beforehand. Neither story that is.