The Prisoner in the Tower (A Drusilla Davanish Mystery)

Written by Dawn Harris
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

This novel could justly be described as a ripping yarn. Set mainly on the Isle of Wight in 1794, the marvellously alliterative Drusilla Davanish who narrates the book is an unusual heroine for the times. She has her own fortune, which she doesn’t intend to hand over to a man, is as tall as Mary Queen of Scots, and is a sleuth.

Robespierre’s cronies are plotting to kidnap the British Prime Minister William Pitt and take him to Paris and ultimately guillotine him. All the British agents there have been betrayed and executed, except one. Does this mean that Radleigh Reevers, the man Drusilla loves but refuses to marry, is a traitor? This story is great fun, and full of dramatic moments: an unseen knife-throwing assassin, shipwreck on the Goodwin Sands, smugglers with their hearts in the right place. Sometimes, though, characters are not clearly defined; I don’t usually favour them, but a dramatis personae list at the front might have helped here. Dialogue is sprightly, and so some explanatory passages might have been more successfully worked into the characters’ speech.

There are some illogical moments, like no-one being bothered about leaving a murder victim another night in the wood (where presumably foxes live), and human hearts cannot thump so loudly that they drown out the wind. A character has a “handsome moustache”: I can find no portraits of this time where sitters have them. There are too many sentences that are really subordinate clauses (as in: “Where vessels often waited for suitable weather in which to sail.”). Drusilla reminds us too often that she is still “missing something”; that much is evident. That said, the story is told with verve and enthusiasm, with a plucky and admirably unconventional heroine.