Recent Events

Monday 13 September 2021

‘Death’s Long Shadow’ by Judith Cutler

Published by Severn House,
26 August 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-5024-9 (HB)

Matthew and Harriet Rowsley are the two senior servants in Lord Croft’s employ: Matthew is his lordship’s estate manager, and his wife, Harriet, is the housekeeper for the large and lavishly furnished Thorncroft House. However, their employment is far from usual for Victorian upper servants because Lord Croft is no longer in possession of his faculties and lives under constant supervision in the Family Wing of the house under the care of his dedicated valet and other servants, presided over by a nurse who also tends to invalids from the household, estate and village. Lord Croft’s responsibilities have been taken over by a board of trustees, which include Matthew, Harriet, the head cook, the elderly butler, a lawyer, vicar, doctor and other local dignitaries. This lays a far heavier burden than is usual upon Harriet and Matthew, who have to maintain the safety of the house and all its contents, as well as running the estate efficiently but with care for the workers. Although there are no longer lavish entertainments at Thorncroft House, there are occasions when Matthew and Harriet have to act as host and hostess to any guests who need the hospitality of the house.

The story opens at the funeral of the Dowager Lady Croft, the present Lord Croft’s mother. She had been an invalid for some time, taking no part in ordering the running of the house, nevertheless her death adds extra pressure upon Harriet, as Lady Croft’s will adds to her duties and ties her even more firmly to the Croft house and estate. Lady Croft’s funeral takes place on a bitterly cold winter’s day and the freezing snow means that many of the guests are forced to remain at Thorncroft House. That evening the weary, mourning household is roused by benighted travellers whose coach is stranded in the snow: Lady Stanton and her maid were travelling inside the coach and are only slightly chilled, but the coachman and groom are very ill from the bitter cold. It is inevitable that the travellers have to be offered hospitality at Thorncroft House but, from the start, Lady Staunton proves to be an unpleasant and demanding guest, blatantly trying to flirt with Matthew and being consistently rude to Harriet. Even more worrying, Lady Staunton is very evasive about where she has come from and the reason for her journey. With a house full of guests, not all of whom are known to them, Harriet and Matthew are concerned about the safety of the valuables in their safekeeping. Soon, far worse befalls the house of mourning than disruptive guests and the fear of theft: a young housemaid is discovered at the bottom of a flight of stairs with her neck broken. It is possible that the girl had acted recklessly, hurrying down the unlit stairs, and that her death was an accident, but such disobedience would have been out of character. The household is plunged into grief at the death of this innocent child, and, as tension increases amongst both servants and guests, fear grows that there is a murderer in their midst.

Death’s Long Shadow is the third book featuring Harriet and Matthew Rowsley. It works well as a stand-alone novel, but I would recommend reading this series from the start. It is a fascinating series, with a unique and original premise. The regular characters are engaging, with relationships and characters that continue to develop, sometimes in surprising ways. Matthew and Harriet are delightful protagonists, who share the First-Person narrative and whose tender love for each other enriches the whole book. The plot is interesting, and the historical detail is excellent, with superb atmosphere, the claustrophobic ambience of the snowbound household mirrors Harriet’s growing feeling of being trapped by the demands of her increasingly rigorous role in the house. Death’s Long Shadow is a compelling read, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Reviewer:  Carol Westron

Judith Cutler  was born in the Black Country, just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne. Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School, winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much-revised version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend books are set in the world of antiques and there are seven books in this series. There are three books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh, Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her more recently a series feature a head teacher Jane Cowan (3 books). Judith has also written three standalone’s Staging Death, Scar Tissue, and Death In Elysium. Her new series is set in Victorian times featuring Matthew Rowsley. Death’s Long Shadow is the third book in this series.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book
This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

No comments:

Post a Comment