Bridge to Belle Island

Written by Julie Klassen
Review by Gail M. Murray

Benjamin Booker, a handsome London attorney, is dispatched to the Wilder estate on fictional Belle Island, an idyllic island in the Thames, by Robert Hardy, his mentor and the senior partner of Norris, Hardy and Hunt, to offer legal advice and investigate the murder of Percival Norris.

The courtroom scene in the opening chapter is loosely based on an actual transcript from the Old Bailey. The epigraphs relate to happenings later in the novel. We witness Booker’s humiliation as he loses the case due to his mistaken trust in the supposed innocence of a beautiful woman. As he investigates the elegant Isabelle Wilde, the chief suspect, he struggles with his attraction to her.

This Regency novel is essentially a clever mystery with a subplot of sweet romance between the two protagonists. Klassen piles up clues, teasing us with a multitude of suspects with motives for murdering Percy Norris, trustee of the Wilder estate. They include Captain Evan Curtis (Isabelle’s first love) sent to fight in Spain; Christopher Adair (fiancé of Isabelle’s niece Rose), arrogant and dissatisfied with the betrothal agreement; and Dr. Teddy Grant.

From the beginning, I believed in kind, gentle Isabelle’s complete innocence. Our heroine has not left the island in ten years since the premature deaths of her parents and sister. She believes in the Wilder curse: any Wilder born on the island who leaves also dies young. Her panic attack when forced to cross the bridge is harrowing.

Throw in laudanum, dangerous smugglers, shady dealings, a flood, a violent storm and voilà: adventure. The action-packed climax had me on the edge. The reveal of the killer came as a complete surprise. The love story is slow to bloom but does not disappoint: this is the time of Jane Austen.