Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Lady Grace Mysteries: Assassin - Patricia Finney (writing as Gravce Cavendish)

Wikipedia has pages for high school basketball players, extinct types of wheat, obscure politicians best known for sending smutty texts to young men and radio stations in Missouri. Until last year, it didn't have a page for the author Patricia Finney.

I'm pretty sure that says something both about the relative usefulness of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia and the general foolishness of its editors.

For Patricia Finney is the author of one of the best Elizabethan spy series (starring David Becket and Simon Ames and running for three volumes to date - Firedrake's Eye (1992), Unicorn's Blood (1998) and Gloriana's Torch (2003)) plus an equally intelligent series about Sir Robert Carey, set a little earlier and now up to five volumes, with the publication of A Murder of Crows earlier this year.

The latter series is written under the nom de plume of PF Chisholm (possibly because the first was submitted for publication when the author was 18 and freshly enrolled at Oxford University as an undergraduate), which perhaps explains the lack of Wiki page to some extent.

The Lady Grace Mysteries - a series of short mystery novels for younger readers set at the court of Elizabeth I - are also pseudonymously written, this time as Lady Grace Cavendish herself, the heroine of the novels. It's a nice idea, but sadly not one which goes any further than that. Unlike George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books, say, there's no attempt other than in author name to pretend that these are genuine history, even though the books are written in the first person, as a series of diary entries in Lade Grace's daybook.

Still, Lady Grace and her friends and enemies are quickly and effectively sketched in - Masou the little Muslim tumbler is perhaps the most interesting of the supporting characters, but most importantly Elizabeth herself feels real and if she has been given a personality not entirely in keeping with the popular historical profile, she's none the worse for the addition of a little unexpected compassion, mischievousness and sense of humour.

The story itself is neatly constructed, as expected, though obviously not as complex as one of Finney's adult novels. It's perhaps rather too linear a plot for an adult mystery fan and in light of the fairly small cast the eventual villain is pretty obvious from the start, but there was enough in Grace's quest to save her fiancé from execution to keep me intrigued for the novel's short length.

For anyone looking for an Elizabethan Smiley's People, this isn't the place to start - Martin Stephen's Henry Gresham series might be better suited, incidentally - but for a leisurely hour or so in a comfy chair, this is just about the right size.

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