The Dead Hand
by Judith Cutler
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Pub Date 07 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023
While hosting a group of academics at Thorncroft House, Harriet and Matthew Rowsley find themselves confronted with bigger - and bloodier! - issues than unruly guests . . . The fifth instalment of the Harriet and Matthew Rowsley Victorian mystery series sets in England during the great Victorian era.
June 1861, Victorian England. A house full of academics should imply calm and quiet, but much to housekeeper Harriet Rowsley's dismay some of the guests seem to have problems with the estate's unconventional practices and aren't afraid of voicing their concerns. Having Harriet and her husband and interim estate manager Matthew as the hosts of Thorncroft House, while his lordship is ill and the trustees are seeking for his heir, is obviously not to everyone's taste!
But Harriet won't let their patronising opinions get in the way of running the household as it was entrusted to her. She and her husband seem to have things under control until a series of unusual accidents occur around them. To make matters worse and more pressing, one of these accidents proves fatal . . .
With a house now full of suspects, Harriet and Matthew have to find out who is causing chaos and why. While everyone is focused on drawing out the culprit and searching for a motive, Harriet has her own theory as to why these incidents happen and decides to follow her hunch - after all, every aspect should be considered, just in case!
For fans of Downton Abbey who love a thrilling murder mystery twist and authentic depictions of the Victorian period. This is a compelling upstairs-downstairs mystery featuring a husband and wife detective duo.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 11 members
The death of Lady Croft, earlier in 1861, has Harriet and Matthew Rowsley busier than ever. Harriet, the long-term housekeeper at Thorncroft House, is now de facto ‘lady of the house’ and must engage a deputy housekeeper to help with her broadening duties. With no lord and lady in residence and few guests, Thorncroft is an unusual great house, but Harriet has high hopes for Mrs. Briggs, who she agrees to try out for a month. But when Mrs. Briggs undercuts her authority, she isn’t so sure.
The Thorncroft estate incorporates a Roman dig. In this episode it is front and centre, with the house hosting archaeologists, historians, students, and an antiquarian, who don’t rub along well. The bibliographer, Mr. Marchbanks, hired to catalogue the extensive Croft library, exacerbates the problem. According to the strict rules of Lord Croft’s legacy, Harriet is the only person allowed into the library unaccompanied, and Mr. Marchbanks rudely balks at supervision. Someone is weakening the cords on large family portraits, and two fall, causing injury. Could this, as well as Mrs. Marchbanks’ frequent fainting fits, be a diversionary tactic for something more serious, Harriet wonders? Then a young man is murdered.
This is a well-plotted mystery, told alternately in first person by Harriet and Matthew. Unfortunately, I didn’t always know who was talking. Not having read the previous books, I found the situation with his lordship, who is insane and confined in the family wing—plus mentions of the search for a lost heir—a little confusing, but this is part of an ongoing mystery running through the series. The countryside of 1861 Shropshire is very well described. A wide story arc is drawn by setting the novel at harvest time, whilst keeping up the tension amongst a very large cast of characters. The ending segues into the next in series nicely.
Thorncroft House is the setting of an archaeological dig for Roman ruins that finds Matthew and Harriet Rowsley dealing with managing the estate as well as the academics. Harriet, the former housekeeper, has been appointed as the estate’s hostess by the trustees, who are searching for the late lord’s heir. Matthew is the estate manager, overseeing a housing project for the estate’s workers as well as the dig. A new housekeeper who is outspoken on how the estate is run, the sabotage of several hanging artworks that have caused injury and several academics who talk down to Harriet despite her position has been causing chaos. When the body of one of the village’s residents is found in a trench at the dig, a suspect is quickly arrested. Harriet, however, believes that the murderer is among the guests on the estate. When Matthew and the local priest are attacked and injured, it is up to Harriet, with the assistance of the trustees, to discover who is responsible.
Harriet was raised in a work house before coming to Thorncroft and working up to housekeeper. Her desire to learn made her a favorite for the late lord. She was granted access to his library of precious books and eventually became its’ caretaker. She knows what it is like to be overlooked as just the help and now uses that to her advantage as she seeks answers. The Dead Hand is an excellent historical mystery, appealing to fans of Downton Abbey. I would like to thank NetGalley and Severn House for providing this book for my review.
1861. The Thorncroft Estate in Shropshire is experiencing a busy time, with the archaeological dig with its influx of professorss and students. Coupled with harvest time, and the new housekeeper on probation. But there seems to be a series of small incidents but which result in a theft, an injury and a death. Can the Rowsleys solve the mysteries.
An enjoyable and well-written historical mystery with its cast of likeable and varied characters. Another good addition to this entertaining series.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.