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Friday, 9 March 2018

‘Strangers and Angels by Carol Westron

Published by Pentangle Press,
28 November 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-97973395-3

At 6am on a bitterly cold December morning, Molly Bowman, lady’s maid to Lady Adelaide, is troubled to see ahead on the street the young Turkish midshipman Kemal, whom she had met the previous Sunday at St Mark’s Church. She had learned he was the only Christian amongst a Muslim crew.  Anxious to head him off before he reached the home of her mistress, she speeds up and rounding the corner of The Crescent, falls over his supine body.  From the gash on his forehead it is clear that in the few seconds it took her to reach The Crescent Kemal has been attacked. Shivering  and fearful that the attacker is still in the vicinity watching them, Molly peers into the still dark morning lit only by gas light.  She assists a shaken Kemal to his feet, and as he checks that he hasn’t been robbed, Molly muses that it’s odd to see the gate to the central garden open.  Although it appears that his money pouch is still intact, his dagger has gone.  Kemal thinks that he must have scared the thief off but although Molly is aware that assaults happen every night down by the sailors’ taverns, since this is the most respectable and wealthy part of Gosport, she is convinced the knife must have fallen out of its sheath. They start to search the area, and stumble upon a dead body.

The arrival of Dr Russell who lives close by, and Mr Edwin Corfield one of Lady Adelaide’s most persistent admirers, is followed by Constable Jeremy Bray who hauls Kemal to his feet and announces, ‘all Turks are murdering savages and it’s the gallows for you’. And matters begin to rapidly spiral out of control.  Can two young women without wealth or influence save Kemal from being hanged.

Carol Westron is known for her incredible research and I learned much about England in 1850.  Apart from the language of the period which made me grateful for the Glossary of Victoria Terms, it was an interesting discovery that the Lady’s maid Molly was in a way freer to move about than the higher born widowed Lady Adelaide, who was restricted by her station and reputation, and living on the grace and favour of her Aunt Susan.  Both the latter and Lady Adelaide’s father are determined to marry her off as soon as possible. Nevertheless, these two spiritedfemales are determined to prove that Kemal is innocent, although, their task is hampered by the restrictions of the time.

The book is rich in characters, Molly’s common sense saves her many times, and the Lady Adelaide comes to her rescue on several occasions using her position.  But the lesser characters are also well fleshed-out.  There is the  Turkish Captain Hasan, so dashing that on one occasion Molly says to her mistress sharply, once the immediate danger has passed, ‘You can let go of his arm now, milady.  Molly’s Grandmother is in her own way a Grande Dame. Maybe that’s where Molly gets it from.  And the sparring (read that for exchange of thinly veiled insults) between Lady Susan, Mrs Ruddell and Mrs Boyle over the elegant afternoon tea, was sheer joy.   And what of the enigmatic Mr Corfield, can he be trusted?  Or will Lady Adelaide be won by the odious Henry Russell?

Underlying this enthralling story is the mystery of a murder which it would be easier to set at the door of a Turkish sailor. Or would it?  Set during a period when it was deemed that there should be no ruffling of the smooth relationship between the UK and the Ottoman Empire, could this cause a diplomatic incident? 

Like all good mysteries the solution to the murder lies back in time.  Can Molly and Lady Adelaide solve the mystery and survive with their lives and reputations intact? A compelling read and one that is highly recommended.  This is a departure for Carol Westron from her excellent scene of crime thrillers but I do hope that we meet up with resourceful Molly and Lady Adelaide again.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats  the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

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