From the Charred Remains
This is the second in the Lucy Campion mystery series (after A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate). Former lady’s maid Lucy is experiencing big changes – after her mistress’ death, Lucy finds herself out of place in the household. With the blessing of her kindly master, a magistrate, she becomes unofficial apprentice to a printer, writing and hawking his murder broadsides. She’s in a unique position to publicize, since she was front and center when a body was discovered in a charred barrel after the Great Fire – its occupant murdered, not burned. Lucy works with the local constable to identify the body and discover the perpetrator.
The setting of Restoration London, immediately after the Great Fire, has significant atmospheric potential, but Calkins seems unable to harness it. While plucky Lucy can be appealing, her naiveté when it comes to her love interest from the previous offering (the magistrate’s son) and a newcomer (the constable) beggar belief, and the rest of the characters are likewise unevenly crafted. The mystery plot barely manages to survive instances of contrivance, but the reader is left with an overwhelming sense that this novel, like its predecessor, simply…falls short, and this one much more so since previous missteps could be attributed to debut inexperience. Simply put: with only the bare sketches of the characters and the setting, a much finer mystery should have been crafted. As it is, the author’s writing seems to be regressing rather than progressing.