Scent of Danger (An Ursula Blanchard Mystery)

Written by Fiona Buckley
Review by Tom Vallar

In February 1586, fifty-something Ursula Stannard is Queen Elizabeth I’s illegitimate half-sister, as well as a sometime agent run by spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. The threat of an invasion by King Philip of Spain that would benefit the queen’s cousin, Mary Stuart of Scotland, makes spies especially crucial on the west coast of England closest to Spain. When Ursula has reason to travel to Devon on her family’s business, Walsingham suggests she also find out why two spies she hired for him on her last trip have failed to report since before Christmas.

Ursula, her 20-year-old ward Joyce, and their husband-and-wife servants cannot stay at her family’s home because of fire damage, so they board with neighbors with Puritan leanings who are forcing their marriageable but plain daughter into a union with a much older widower who will enhance their fortunes. Ursula easily discovers the two spies have died under suspicious circumstances but has no concrete clues to point her toward whether they were murdered by Stuart sympathizers. Only after two nearly successful attempts on her life does Ursula detect a familiar scent that leads her to the killer.

Buckley’s 18th Ursula adventure appealed even to this reader, who had never encountered her before. Ursula’s intrepid style and devil-may-care attitude lead her into more danger than she should have to deal with, but her supporting cast has her back and have their own moments to shine. Joyce especially comes out of this escapade smelling like a rose, so Ursula returns home to Surrey with a new ward and a new servant to brighten her next adventure.