Murder at Hatfield House
Signet / October 1, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital
1558. Kate Haywood, a simple musician in the employ of a princess, will find herself involved in games of crowns as she sets out to solve the murder of the queen’s envoy....
England is in tumult under the rule of Queen Mary and her Spanish husband. Confined to house arrest at Hatfield House, young Princess Elizabeth is the country’s greatest hope. Far from court intrigues, Elizabeth finds solace in simple things: the quiet countryside and peaceful recreation, including the melodies of her chief musician and his daughter, Kate Haywood.
But Kate will prove herself most valuable when an envoy of the queen—sent to flush out heretics in the princess’s household—is found dead on the grounds of Hatfield. Acting as Elizabeth’s eyes and ears, Kate is sent out on the trail of a killer whose mission could destroy her family, friends - and the future of England.
The back cover blurb above does an excellent job of conveying the gist of Amanda Carmack's Murder at Hatfield House. I want to talk about the period in which the mystery is set: the Elizabethan Period and, in particular, Elizabeth herself.
Elizabeth is 24 years old, and her short life has been one of danger and tumult, buffeted by politics and her capricious sister, Queen Mary. Carmack's portrayal reflects her many sides and moods.
Princess Elizabeth paced back and forth in front of the fireplace, the furred hem of her robe stirring the rushes scattered on the floor with every turn. Her red-gold hair spilled down her back, and she held a book in her long, elegant white hands, though it wasn't open. Even study couldn't distract her tonight.
“Kate, by God's wound, but I am glad you are here,” Elizabeth said. “This wind is driving me mad. I need your music to drown out its moans and soothe me to sleep.”
Kate turned to her lute, her head bent low over the strings. “What would you like to hear tonight, Your Highness? A lively volta or pavane to life the spirits?”
“Nay” Elizabeth answered. “I am in no dancing mood tight. An old ballad, I think. Something sweet and sad. Aye, that would suit the mood.”
An emissary from the Queen descends upon the house, looking for evidence of heresy and is confronted by Elizabeth. It is only the latest in a stream of searches, and she handles them with cunning aplomb.
<blockquote>Many of Queen Mary's men had come to Hatfield in the last months… But Elizabeth had perfected the needle-fine art of hearing only what she wanted to hear, of replying with a swirl of artful words while her meaning became less and less clear the more she spoke. It had driven men twice her age and with multitudes more power to shout with rage. Shout - and then do what she wanted, which was leave her alone.
But Lord Braceton is made of sterner stuff, bringing out Elizabeth's Tudor temper as he ransacks her home.
<blockquote>“My sister the queen has no more loyal subject than I,” she heard Elizabeth cry, above the brittle sound more shattering crockery. “I am sure Her Majesty would never countenance the peace of my home being so vilely disturbed.”
“My orders, madam, are to search every corner of this house, nay, of this whole foul county, until this heresy is rooted out,” Lord Braceton answered, his voice full of bitter anger. “I explained all this most thoroughly last night. The very fact that I was attacked so near to Hatfield proves I am close to some treason. I will search every room and box in this place-”
“And I say you shall not!” Elizabeth shouted, her Tudor temper obviously slipping free of her iron control. “My people are as loyal subject to the queen as I am. They have been searched and questioned over and over, and no guilt has ever been found of them. I will not allow their peace to be so disturbed again.”
The politics of Elizabeth's position—that of an unmarried Protestant heir to the now Catholic throne—are always simmering below the surface, sometimes igniting as when she is confronted by a Spanish nobleman hoping to maintain England's ties to Spain after Mary's impending death. Elizabeth is determined to keep England, and herself, independent.
<blockquote>“I have no thoughts of marriage at all at present,” Elizabeth answered. “And surely that question is of concern only to myself and the queen.”
“Philip is also most concerned with your welfare, as you surely well know,” Feria said. “When the queen ordered you to the Tower, he worked most diligently to have you out again and invited back to court. He has only wanted to encourage cordial relations between yourself and your sister.”
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. “And I give my most sincere thanks to His Majesty for all his kind efforts on my behalf. They shall not be forgotten.”
“It was only thanks to him, not Queen Mary or her council, that your rights of succession have been assured…”
With those words, Kate saw that Feria went too far. Elizabeth slammed her palms down hard on the table, making the gilded plate clatter and wine slosh in the goblets. “My lord de Feria, we shall be clear about one thing. It was the people alone who have put me in my present position - the people and my birth. So it was with the queen herself. The people supported her rights and raised her to her correct place on the throne when the dukes of Northumberland and Suffolk would have snatched it from her and placed it into the hands of our cousin Jane Grey. Not Philip, nor any nobility of the realm, had any part in my place.”
“My lady,” Feria said, his hands held out as if to placate her. “I meant only that King Philip and the council shall always stand as your friends.”
“My friends?” Elizabeth said. Even in the candlelit dimness of the room her eyes blazed fire. “It was thanks to the kind offices of the council that I have been made a prisoner over and over again these past years. I hope I may know who my true friends are.”
Though Elizabeth is shrewd and strong, she is also human and it is these glimpses that make her accessible, not just an historic figure, but a real person with doubts and fears.
<blockquote>She pushed herself out of her chair and whirled around to stalk to the window. She stared down at the world outside, her palms braced on the glass as if she would push it out and soar free.
“I wonder sometimes if they felt like this, as if they would scream with the fear and the rage. Scream and scream, and never stop,” Elizabeth said quietly, musing to herself.
“They, Your Grace?” Kate asked, uncertain.
“My mother. And my young cousin, Lady Jane. They have been much in my thoughts lately, Kate… They say she [Jane] made a brave end, with her faith to sustain her. She always did seem - not quite of this world.” Elizabeth's finger tapped at the window, the hand of her ruby and pearl ring clicking on the glass. “But in all her months of being trapped in the Tower, that terrible place, surely her mind could not always have been on a heavenly reward. She must have sometimes been afraid, longed for home, for her family. For the free, country breeze on her face.”
Kate's heart lurched at the quiet sadness, and she hurried over to stand by Elizabeth at the window. Queen Mary's guard loitered in the courtyard below.
“This is not the Tower, Your Grace,” she said. “And those men will soon be gone.”
“Nay, this is not the Tower. It's meant to be my home, the home by father left me in his will, and once I felt safe here. But now it is a prison like any other. And I do think of them.”
Murder at Hatfield House is the first in a series of Elizabethan-set mysteries. We see the action unfold through Kate, the musician's eyes, but the most exciting revelation is not the unveiling of the mystery, but the unveiling of Elizabeth.
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Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.