The Beaulieu Vanishing

Written by K.E. Martin
Review by Richard Abbott

I was drawn to this book initially because of the location – I used to live near Southampton, so the key New Forest and Solent settings are very familiar. Today I live a short distance from Barnet, where a decisive battle was fought just before the story opens. There were differences back in the 15th century, of course. Southampton had a castle (sold to property speculators in 1618), and Beaulieu Abbey managed large tracts of land in Hampshire and beyond.

The story itself is basically a detective plot, with political motives as the driving force. Indeed, the apparent initial crime proves to be an almost incidental spinoff of the real issues, as the focus of action moves around the southern half of England.

I learned a lot about the cultural and political structures of the age. Although there are clear divisions between those of different rank, these are porous rather than rigid. A regular theme of the book is how, and why, individuals deliberately cross these boundaries. A distinguishing mark of the good person is that he or she can to transcend social barriers for reasons of friendship or virtue. Villains, on the other hand, are content to take advantage of the status quo for their own benefit.

I found the pace of the book a little erratic. Most of it is densely packed, with one day after another full of action. But then towards the end the pace slows, and you abruptly realise that a couple of years has passed before the main character can resolve his personal dilemma. This may well realistically portray the constraints of the age, but in a story it felt odd. In short, a well written and entertaining read, with an interesting and different spin on events of the reign of Edward IV.