Monday, 7 March 2016

Book Review - The Body on the Doorstep by AJ Mackenzie




"The year is 1796. It is midnight on Romney Marsh, in the darkness of a new moon. Smugglers’ boats bring their illicit cargoes of brandy and tobacco from France to land on the beaches of the Channel coast. Suddenly, shots ring out in the night. The rector of St Mary in the Marsh opens his door to find a young man dying on his doorstep.

The man lives long enough to utter four words. Tell Peter…mark…trace.

What do those four words mean? Who is the young man? Where did he come from, and who killed him? Why, five minutes later, was a Customs officer shot and killed out on the Marsh? And who are the mysterious group of smugglers known as the Twelve Apostles, and where does their allegiance lie? When the rector investigates, aided by his faithful allies Mrs Amelia Chaytor, a local widow, and the young painter JMW Turner, he quickly finds himself involved in a world of smuggling, espionage...and danger."

This is the first book in a promised Romney Marsh Mysteries series, written by AJ Mackenzie, the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel,
an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians. I love discovering debut authors and new series, to have both combined and in such an enjoyable book as The Body on the Doorstep is a real treat. Books featuring amateur sleuths are perennially popular and the pairing in The Body on the Doorstep are welcome additions to the genre. Reverend Hardcastle is an alcoholic rector with a colourful past, and Amelia Chaytor, a widow living in the village who turns out to be far braver, sharper and less easily shocked than a woman of her time was expected to be.
Despite being set during a much earlier period I was reminded somewhat of John Buchan's Richard Hannay  books, perhaps because it is imbued with the same sense of adventure and with characters that may not be all they seem. As with Buchan's books the landscape, in this case Romney Marsh, plays an important role in the plot.
Whilst there is always going to be some artistic license in a work of fiction the plot (written by historians of course) feels credible,  not necessarily easy in a book that features smugglers, spying, rumours of a French invasion and the artist JWM Turner!
I stayed up late last night (actually early this morning) to finish The Body on the Doorstep and I know if the next book in the series had been published I would be reading that now. I'll have to look forward to it but in the meantime thoroughly recommend this to all, particularly if you enjoy historical mysteries.

The Body on the Doorstep will be published by Zaffre on 21st April 2016. Many thanks to the authors and publishers for my ARC received through NetGalley.

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