The Body in the Ice

Written by A. J. Mackenzie
Review by Tracey Warr

It is an exceptionally cold winter at St Mary in the Marsh on Romney Marsh. On Christmas Eve 1796 a body is discovered encased in the ice of a pond at New Hall House, and a hunt is on for the murderer. New Hall has lain empty for years but, soon after the body is discovered, the Rossiter family arrive suddenly from America to reclaim and resume ownership.

A black man from America is a stranger in the county, and he is accused and on trial for his life. Reverend Hardcastle and his friend, the attractive and resourceful widow Chaytor, are in a race against time to unravel the twists and turns of the plotters and uncover the truth. French spies are landed by smugglers, women dress as men, an enormous hound lopes on the beach. The brother of Jane Austen is one of the cast of characters caught up in the action. Can Hardcastle and Chaytor foil a plot to launch revolution in England? What secrets does New Hall hold? Will Reverend Hardcastle fall off the wagon and resort to wallowing next to his port cabinet again?

This is the second outing for the 18th-century sleuths and every bit as rewarding as the first book in the series. At times the tongue-in-cheek Gothic is a little overblown, and some aspects of the plot seem a little unlikely, but such minor gripes can easily be forgiven in this highly enjoyable read. An effective use of letters rattles the story along. The gentle comedy of Chaytor and Hardcastle’s friendship is delightful, and the storytelling hurtles the reader along at an irresistible pace. I look forward to Chaytor and Hardcastle’s next outing.