Death and the Chevalier (A Cragg and Fidelis Mystery)

Written by Robin Blake
Review by Tom Vallar

Prestonians in Lancashire, England, have bitter memories of the Scottish risings of 1715 and 1719 that left much of the town in ashes. In November 1745, rumors that “Bonnie Prince Charlie” has landed in Scotland with designs on reclaiming the Stuart throne seem true: a head, body, and plaid are discovered in three separate places. This is a case for Coroner Titus Cragg to puzzle over, and it gets worse when his friend, Dr. Luke Fidelis, finds a second head and body, though the second head seems a better fit for the first body. The theory that two Highlanders were an advance party spying for “the Chevalier” is bolstered when Fidelis discovers a note in the mouth of one of the heads that claims the victims were done in by supporters of King George.

When the Scots subsequently occupy the town, and an elderly man who recently found a saddlebag containing more than £200 dies, suspicion falls on the Jacobite troops that raided his home. But the Scots strike back by taking Titus into custody, charging him with the murder of the spies based on a copy of his sworn coroner’s report. Luke’s resourcefulness frees him from prison as the Jacobite army continues toward London, and the pair ferret out the murderer of all three victims.

Blake peoples his novels with believable characters, but introduces far too many by name to possibly keep track of. Further, the urgency of an invasion never truly envelops the participants. This sixth installment of the series includes a personal challenge for Titus that he meets ably, but the mystery element is less compelling.