The Rose in the Wheel
In S.K. Rizzolo’s first novel, set in 1811 London, we witness a crime in progress. A wealthy spinster, Constance Tyrone, is murdered one cold, rainy night on the steps of the church of her patron saint, St. Catherine. The similarities between St. Catherine and Constance, the co-founder of the St. Catherine Society dedicated to assisting impoverished women, are both unavoidable and discomfiting. However, while St. Catherine withstood the trial of the wheel and escaped into glorious martyrdom, Constance Tyrone’s life and death are but those of a fallible human woman. But why would Constance be targeted?
During the murder investigation, we are introduced to Bow Street Runner John Chase, a savvy detective with humanity and decency, and Penelope Wolfe, a liberated young woman married to a talented artist and marginal gentleman.
Regency London comes to life in this novel. The judicial system and its indifference to the poor, the hard-and-fast rules of social behavior, the lack of health services, the filth and grime of the city are all described in narrative, but not pedantic, fashion. We get caught up in the lives of these people and develop a fondness for them.
My only criticism is about the finale. We learn what has ultimately occurred when the characters meet at a Christmas dinner and discuss the resolution of the investigation. This method of “tying up loose ends” lacks immediacy. Overall, though, a terrific beginning for a talented writer.