Monday, 4 January 2010
Death is the Cure by Nicola Slade
Nicola Slade does atmosphere well; a short way into Death is the Cure I became aware that she had caught the buzz of the Pump Rooms in Bath exactly, and I was there with Charlotte Richmond and her friends as they tried the (revolting) spa waters. Charlotte, a young widow, has accompanied her dear friend Elaine to Bath while she undergoes a Faraday cure, latest in the fashionable Victorian flirtation with electrical treatments. While Elaine is busy “sizzling”, as she puts it, Charlotte is at liberty, guidebook in hand, to explore the town – not so elegant as it had been in Jane Austen’s day, but especially interesting as she hopes there may be clues to her own background. For Charlotte is not quite the quiet and grieving widow she appears to be, but the daughter of a young woman transported to Australia and, while she would like to trace her mother’s origins, she is less than keen that they should be widely known. And she’s not alone – several of her fellow guests at the respectable Bath establishment where they are staying look uncomfortable when the sharp and inquisitive Mr Jonas Tibbins seems to suggest that they might have secrets. Before long, Charlotte stumbles across a body…
Charlotte is a very believable heroine – she is warm, practical, prone to giggles, and thoroughly good company. She’s not above considering her own interests when indulging in a bit of matchmaking, and quite prepared to admit that there are people she doesn’t like; indeed, she is thoroughly pragmatic about the other guests (inmates, as she drily thinks of them) and tolerant of – if amused by – their foibles. She and Elaine are quick to see the funny side, so that you know their company would be readily sought by the other guests – indeed, there is much of Jane Austen about these two women, in their intelligence and humour, but Charlotte is necessarily more modern and resourceful than Lizzy Bennet, used to living by her wits…hmm, perhaps more than a touch of the Heyer heroines, too?
This is the second time Charlotte has appeared – the first was in Murder Most Welcome – and I really look forward to her next foray into detection. With her independent spirit I can see her doing a good deal more travelling, her status as a widow giving her leeway to investigate all kinds of skulduggery, and you can be sure she’ll find allies (and readers!) wherever she goes.