The Mourning Bells: A Lady of Ashes Mystery

Written by Christine Trent
Review by Shannon Gallagher

The Mourning Bells is the fourth installment in the Lady of Ashes series but easily stands on its own. The familiar Violet Harper, a London undertaker with a penchant for finding herself involved with detective work, encounters the extraordinary at the Brookwood Cemetery as she disembarks the London Necropolis Railway in her usual routine. Violet is musing over the Victorian paranoia of being buried alive, which has given birth to a new industry producing safety devices for coffins. Violet heartily disapproves of the trend, but then she hears the distinct ring of a bell coming from one of the coffins offloaded from the train. Violet opens the coffin to find an addled but clearly living man. No less than a week later, Violet experiences the same “resurrection” from a coffin offloaded from the Brookwood LNR. This is no coincidence.

Violet begins to investigate on her own, with some assistance from her daughter, Susanna. Every inquiry uncovers more suspicious dealings, but every theory they develop quickly evaporates. When at the Brookwood LNR platform next, Violet encounters a young woman who appears to be looking for someone alive. The woman becomes hysterical when her fiancé’s coffin is opened, and he is, indeed, deceased. Did Violet imagine that the woman was shocked by this? She quickly examines the body and realizes it has received none of the customary treatment for burial.

Something most certainly is very suspicious, but what and why? As the pieces of the mystery begin to fall into place Violet realizes that she has uncovered a complex conspiracy involving some of the highest-ranking families in Britain. The Mourning Bells is an enjoyable read that will also educate about the funerary practices of the Victorians.