Book Review: Foxe and the Black Beast: An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery by William Savage (@penandpension) #RBRT # Georgian mystery

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This review is for Rosie’s Book Review Team. The book was purchased by the reviewer.

Foxe and the Black Beast is the tenth in the Ashmole Foxe series, and I’ve read every one of them and reviewed most because I find the central character, Ashmole Foxe, so compelling. I’ve enjoyed the way he has evolved from a dandified, hedonistic, man-about-town to a settled, newly married man with a beautiful and very intelligent wife. In this latest adventure, the Dean of Norwich calls on Foxe, a rare bookseller and now recognized as the premier investigator in the city, to find the killer of a member of the clergy. The man, Reverend Bing, who insists on being called Prebendary Bing (a type of canon who has a role in the administration of a cathedral), is found dead at the base of the front steps, his head bashed in.

Bing is a thoroughly unlikeable character – greedy, ignorant, pretentious, disagreeable, penurious, and immune to the needs of the people who are in his spiritual care. The book begins with two chapters devoted to the parishes from which Bing collects tithes that contribute to his income, whether the parishioners can afford it or not. The first is a very poor one, consisting largely of fishermen, and the second, a richer one which he also ignores. He has risen to his position of Prebendary and overseer of two parishes largely through toadying to the Church’s higher-ups. He imagines himself on the way to becoming a bishop, if he marries well and prevails upon the right people.

I especially enjoyed the first chapter, which described in flowing and evocative prose the northern coast of Norfolk, where the poorer parish is found. The author is at his absolute best in his wonderful descriptions of the countryside and also the city of Norwich.  The following chapters describing Bing and the questions surrounding him had me hooked perhaps more than any other book in the series.

Foxe is frustrated with this case, which poses so an endless list of questions. Bing was dressed up and went out for the night, but where had he gone and why did he return so late? Why did he frequently venture out dressed as a bishop, when he is really nothing more than a common reverend? And where is his ebony walking cane with the silver knob, which he is never without?

The street children of Norwich are eyes and ears for Foxe and he uses them to help answer some of these questions, but not before hearing that they call him the Black Beast because he is always dressed in black and he frightens and threatens them.

Many of the characters in the previous books return: Foxe’s wife, the clever and much younger Lucy, who helps him when he hits a dead end in his investigations; the Cunning Woman, Mistress Tabby, an herbalist and the source of much information from the street, who took care of a street boy beaten to death by Bing; Mrs. Crombie, an entrepreneurial widow who runs his bookshop very profitably; and Alderman Halloran, Lucy’s uncle and the city’s former mayor, with whom Foxe spends time discussing his investigations and also for whom he purchases rare books.

Foxe find there are a number of possible murderers with the means and motive to kill Bing, and he follows them in a logical sequence, ending at many dead ends. Some readers might find Foxe’s methods of investigation a bit plodding, but these are Georgian times and life moves at the different pace. The pace is actually enjoyable because it allows the reader to think about the mystery and Foxe’s next steps.

I deduced the killer before the end of the book, but as one who writes mysteries, this is normal. I suspect everyone else will be left hanging until the end. The killer’s identity is unlikely, to say the least.

What more can be said? Mr. Savage’s plots are complex and believable, his settings beautifully described and historically precise, and his characters three-dimensional and compelling. I am a devourer of his mysteries and when I finished this one, it was like finishing a slice of chocolate cake. When will I get the next serving?

Foxe and the Black Beast is one of the best, if not the best, in this series and I highly recommend it.

About the author:

William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and took his degree at Cambridge. After a working life largely spent teaching and coaching managers and leaders in Britain, Europe and the USA, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property and started to write fiction as a way of keeping his mind active in retirement. He had read and enjoyed hundreds of detective stories and mystery novels and another of his loves was history, so it seemed natural to put the two together and try his hand at producing an historical mystery. To date, he has focused on two series of murder-mystery books, both set in Norfolk between 1760 and around 1800; a period of turmoil in Britain, with constant wars, the revolutions in America and France and finally the titanic, 22-year struggle with France and Napoleon.

Norfolk is not only an inherently interesting county, it happens to be where the author lives, which makes the necessary research far easier. The Georgian period seemed natural choice for him as well, since he lives in a small Georgian town, close by several other towns that still bear the imprint of the eighteenth century on many of their streets and grander buildings. It also had the attraction of being a period he had never studied intensively, and so far he has not regretted his choice. The period has far exceeded his expectations in richness of incidents, rapidity of change and plentiful opportunities for anyone with a macabre interest in writing about crimes of every kind. He cannot see himself running out of plot material any time soon!

You can find Foxe and the Black Beast on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Black-Beast-Ashmole-Georgian-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0BHPJXMR4/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2C0QQ7M2GJL8U&keywords=FOxe+and+the+Black+Beast&qid=1669732535&s=books&sprefix=foxe+and+the+black+beast%2Cstripbooks%2C82&sr=1-1

You can also find William Savage

On Twitter: @penandpension

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009908836774

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: Foxe and the Black Beast: An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery by William Savage (@penandpension) #RBRT # Georgian mystery

  1. The cover got an “Oh” out of me, and the review didn’t disappoint either, Noelle. The book sounds great. I like interesting characters and all of these sound unique as well as three-dimensional. Plus “best in the series” is a great recommendation. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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