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.