When newly-fledged physician Dr. Adam Bascom discovers a body in a churchyard, he has no clue that discovering how the body came to be there and why the man had been killed will consume large parts of his life for the next few months. Thus opens An Unlamented Death, William Savage’s first historical novel. Set against the background of Georgian and Regency Norfolk during the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the history of this tale focuses on the daily life of the people involved, their mores and discourse. This is what captured my interest. It is also written in the style of the time – think Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Mary Shelley – and it took a few chapters to get used to it, before I could submerge myself in the story. Once there, the rest of the book was good ride in the realities of the era.
The richness and depth of the historical detail is amazing, and all of the characters are exceptionally well-drawn and interesting. As a medical professional, I especially liked the description of Bascom’s practice and that of his friend, Lassimer, an apothecary and a ladies’ man who serves as Bascom’s sounding board.
I don’t want to give the mystery away but will tell you the body in the churchyard is that of an ultraconservative cleric, Reverend William Ross, a whose bombast and judgmental personality has alienated all who know him, including his own son. Why he would have been in the isolated churchyard, in an area known for smuggling of both goods and radical revolutionaries, is the crux of the story. When his death is ruled accidental and quickly and unseemingly put to rest, Bascom begins to worry at the decision, like a kitten with a ball of yarn. Unraveling the ball introduces us to the colorful Captain George Mimms, once of the Royal Navy, then a merchantman, and now retired, and Adam’s widowed mother and her circle of widowed but highly fashionable lady friends, who very much appreciate a good-looking, single doctor. His mother is not beyond a machination of her own, hiring the charming, intelligent, and lovely Sophia LaSalle as her companion, with the unstated hope her unmarried son will become interested.
Woven expertly into story is an introduction to the social structure, polite and impolite society, religious prejudices, criminals, and civil and religious corruption of that area of England in the time.
The only minor complaint I have about An Unlamented Death is its slowness in coming to the crime’s solution. As a mystery writer, I prefer things to move along at a good pace, but perhaps this is just a reflection of the time in which this mystery is set and the manner in which the book was written.
I award the book five stars, but a caveat: its main appeal with be to readers who appreciate history, rich detail and absorbing characters, written in period style. I look forward to reading Mr. Savage’s next book in this series, The Fabric of Murder, also set in Norfolk.
About the author:
William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and too his degree at Cambridge. After a career in various managerial and executive roles, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property. His life-long interest has been history, which led to research and writing about the eighteenth century. But his is not just a superficial interest in history, but a real desire to understand and transmit the daily experience of living in turbulent times.
You can find An Unamented Death on Amazon:
William Savage’s blog is Pen and Pension: http://penandpension.com/author/bluebrdz1946/