The Deathly Portent

Written by Elizabeth Bailey
Review by Michael I. Shoop

The second “Lady Fan Mystery” finds the intrepid Ottilia “Tillie” Fanshawe and her husband Sir Francis with their carriage broken down near the tiny hamlet of Witherley, where they are thrust headlong into a murder that some of the villagers claim was done by witchcraft. The local blacksmith has been found bludgeoned and burned in his smithy, and the somewhat mysterious and lovely widow Cassie Dale, who has the ability to “see” events before they occur, has been loudly accused of killing him. In 1788 England, there are those who still believe in witches, and in Witherley, it seems old superstitions die hard.

The new vicar, Aidan Kinnerton, is determined to get to the truth of the matter, as well as protect the accused Mrs. Dale. With the fortuitous arrival of Ottilia, with her curious mind and knack for uncovering clues, it’s only a matter of time before the web of lies and deceit becomes unraveled and the killer unmasked. Old grudges, clandestine meetings, hidden identities, past sins, and another dead body are revealed before Tillie is finally able to finger the murderer and solve the crime.

Bailey is good with her characters’ interplay: especially noteworthy is the easy and witty banter between the Fanshawes, which is entertaining and adds some humor to the situation. Her good use of period details adds color and interest, and her characters are generally well drawn and intriguing, although at times I found them a little too numerous and difficult to keep straight. The story seemed to drag a little in spots, but on the whole it was an enjoyable read with a plausible conclusion. I found it satisfying as both a historical and as a mystery.