Whisper of Death

Written by Patricia Wynn
Review by J. Lynn Else

In October 1716, Hester Kean and her cousin Mary are touring St. Paul’s Cathedral when Hester overhears a dangerous threat, “I shall kill him with my bare hands.” The architectural design of the cathedral’s dome causes words said on one side of the room to travel to the other, even when whispered, so Hester isn’t sure who in their touring party uttered the phrase. Not long after, Mary’s unsavory suitor, Lord Wragby, is found murdered. Blame falls on James Henry, the receiver-general of Mary’s brother-in-law, who quarreled with Wragby in defense of Mary’s honour. Hester is determined to clear James’s name. When her fiancé, a man falsely accused of murder and in exile, surprises Hester over Christmas, they decide to exonerate James together. At the same time, the couple explores the depth of love they share.

Not having read the previous books, I felt at a disadvantage. The number of names dropped in the initial chapters made me feel quite lost, particularly when also trying to catch up on previous events. There’s a large focus on political schemes and tensions, but the characters don’t have emotional reactions to them. Due to the scant amount of character opinions or internal musings, I didn’t get a sense of their personalities. Political elements do tie into the murder mystery, but the sheer amount included saturates the narrative and slows its pace. In terms of prose, Wynn oftentimes uses double-negative phrases in her sentences, which comes across as unpolished. For example, “…therefore, could not be trusted not to betray him.”

Wynn has great knowledge of this period, and I delighted in the details of everyday life. In terms of historical accuracy, this novel gets an A plus. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough character substance, and I wasn’t drawn into the story.