The third title in Jane Jakeman’s Lord Ambrose mysteries finds Ambrose Malfine, Lord of the Malfine estate in the West Country of England, swept once again into dire circumstances. Ambrose treasures his solitude but treasures Elisabeth Anstruther more. He is, then, shaken when in May 1833 Elisabeth refuses his proposal of marriage and informs him she has accepted a position as companion to Clara Jesmond, who lives in isolation with her husband thirty miles away. Soon Elisabeth writes to Ambrose of tragedy at Jesmond Place. A young doctor has died in bed: evidence points to poisoning.
Smarting from Elisabeth’s rebuff, Ambrose will not hasten after her, yet he knows she will not abandon her duties. Thinking of poison, of traps, and of death, he abandons his pride and rides to Jesmond, a place as dark and brooding as Ambrose himself.
Jakeman’s elegant prose creates a fine, somber atmosphere. The plot is thin (the title reveals too much), and a twist involving a will closely echoes George Eliot’s Middlemarch. A gratifying subplot involves Ambrose’s manservant, Belos, who quits Malfine to pursue love interests of his own. Surely we will read more of this likable thespian, whose vocabulary runs to terms like “crepuscular chapeau” for “black bonnet.”