A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
Calkins’s uneven debut mystery centers around chambermaid Lucy Campion, servant of a kindly magistrate’s family in Restoration England. When her fellow chambermaid and friend, Bessie, is found murdered in a field at Rosamund’s Gate, Lucy’s innocent brother is imprisoned for the crime. Lucy investigates and discovers Bessie wasn’t the first to die in such a manner. Could the magistrate’s taciturn son be involved? Or the painter/lothario executing her mistress’s portrait? Was it a stranger?
The plotting starts out strong, and the premise is promising. Restoration London makes for a colorful backdrop, and the character dynamic between Lucy and the magistrate’s son has potential. But the mystery quickly loses focus, completely derailing as the author clumsily wields both the plague and the Great Fire to affect the romantic subplot and attempt to prolong suspense. Despite these digressions, the reader has pegged the malefactor at the halfway point, and the ending is a typical melodramatic reveal. The portrayal of the plague as a great leveller immediately and permanently sweeping away all social boundaries, along with other fast-forward-thinking ideas advanced by the protagonist, rings false and pulls the reader out of the period. Hopefully experience will help the author avoid these pitfalls in future works.