Secret Mischief (A Cragg and Fidelis Mystery 7)

Written by Robin Blake
Review by Tom Vallar

Blake’s seventh Titus Cragg novel (after Death and the Chevalier, HNR 92) starts in a hog pen and ends on a cricket pitch near Lancaster’s hangman’s hill. Being set in 1746 in the north of England, it also notes the defeat at Culloden of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. But the heart of this mystery concerns the legal document known as a “tontine” signed thirty years earlier by seven friends to invest their shadily-gained winnings. The goal of a tontine is to ensure that the winner is the last one taken by death, assuming death is a natural occurrence. Unfortunately, murder is anything but natural, and the tontine provides the perfect motive to eliminate one’s former friends to gain the prize.

Coroner Cragg and his friend, Dr. Luke Fidelis, investigate what appears to be the accidental death of the fourth member of the tontine to perish. This one meets his maker at his pig farm in Ormskirk two days after his prize hog is shot. Cragg concludes the hog’s death was an accident and Giggleswick was the intended victim both times; he suspects two strangers in town on unexplained business. When another member of the tontine turns up dead, the noose tightens on the two remaining members – one of whom must surely be the perpetrator. Only a cricket ball can knock sense into the key witness and reveal the depth of the deception in this case.

Blake’s characters are always well-drawn, and this story’s cast is especially deep in both period nuances and intriguing backstories. The struggle between the haves and have-nots puts Cragg’s faith in the law to the test, but his zeal never flags. This series keeps getting better, and mystery fans should relish this adventure.