Face Down Below the Banqueting House
This is the eighth novel in Emerson’s series featuring Susanna, Lady Appleton, a widowed gentlewoman and herbalist in Elizabethan England. In the summer of 1573, when the queen—with her entourage—decides to visit Susanna’s country estate, Leigh Abbey, Susanna is not at all thrilled at the prospect. Brian Tymberley, a courtier who comes to inspect Leigh Abbey to see if it is suitable lodging for the queen, incurs the hatred of the inhabitants of Leigh Abbey and the surrounding area by blackmailing them. Everyone, it seems, has a secret to hide. When Tymberley’s manservant, who has assisted him in his extortion, turns up dead under the banqueting house which has been constructed at the top of Susanna’s oak tree, Susanna, with the help of her lover, Nick Baldwin, the local justice of the peace, must find the killer before the queen arrives.
I had not read any of the Face Down series before, but this book made me want to go back and read the others. The feisty Susanna, who refuses to give up her independence by marrying Nick, is a wonderful heroine. The supporting cast—Nick, his horrible mother Winifred, Susanna’s housekeeper Jennet, and others—are all well-drawn characters I would like to encounter again. And it is wonderful how Emerson gives the reader details about everyday life in Elizabethan England without seeming to lecture.