The Tidal Poole: An Elizabeth I Mystery

Written by Karen Harper
Review by Sarah Johnson

Queen Elizabeth the First is in vogue these days. First we have two popular movies (Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth) with her as a character, and now she’s the star of her own historical mystery series. In The Tidal Poole, the second in Karen Harper’s series following The Poyson Garden, Elizabeth has just been crowned, but must deal with more personal problems as well. A young woman, the sister of a childhood friend, has been found murdered, and Elizabeth decides that she must take charge of solving the mystery herself – with the help of her motley group of retainers.

What I found particularly vivid in this novel were the descriptions of London and its inhabitants: the noise of the streets, the speech of the common people, the mix of the rich and the poor. Elizabeth’s character as portrayed here, though, is quite at odds with her historical image. Would the real Elizabeth regularly have switched clothing with a servant in order to sneak out at night to go sleuthing? Would she really have risked her life numerous times, after spending most of her life in line for England’s throne, in order to solve the murder of a woman she barely if ever knew? While her adventures as described here are entertaining, they’re hardly realistic.

On the other hand, perhaps this is not a mystery to be taken completely seriously. Given the humorous depictions of some supporting characters – the unusual sexual escapades of Elizabeth’s cousin Frances and her young second husband, for example – one gets the feeling that the author was having a good time writing this mystery.