The Companion, Ann Granger, St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95.
(Originally issued in UK as A Rare Interest in Corpses)
This is a stand alone for the industrious, and prolific, Ann Granger, but it certainly is a dandy set up for an historical series that would take a neat place in Anne Perry and Victoria Thompson territory. The story concerns one Elizabeth Martin, on her way to London to serve as a paid companion to her godfather's widow, Mrs. Parry. As Granger opens the story, Elizabeth - Lizzie to her friends - is on a creaky train that's just pulling into London, and she finds her way to not a hansom cab but something called a "growler" which allows Granger to infuse Lizzie's entrance into teeming London with the smells and sights of 1864 to hand. One of the more memorable is the apparent passage of a dead body on a cart, accompanied by police. In true Victorian fashion, the dead body of course is related to the household where Lizzie is going to live.
When Lizzie arrives at the home of Mrs. Parry, she finds in residence there Mrs. Parry's ladies' maid, Nugent; the slinky and slightly mysterious butler, Simms; the man about town, down at the heels cousin, Frank Carterton, who works in the Foreign Office; and the pompous former schoolmaster and minster Dr. Tibbett. Having supplied the reader with a fair number of characters, red herrings, and suspects, Granger tightens the plot by teasing out the story of the former companion's disappearance. Of course it is the unfortunate companion's body that Lizzie had passed on her way into town. More coincidence is on the way, however, when the police inspector, one Ben Ross, turns out to be a boy from Lizzie's own village who had been taken out of the mines and educated by Lizzie's own father. The tie between the two of them is a strong one, and the chapters in the book alternate between Lizzie's point of view and Ben's, thus giving Granger a neat way into the police investigation as well as a way into the things Lizzie investigates - believably - on her own.
We've sold a fair number of copies of this book based on the beautiful cover alone but I'm happy to say what's inside the cover makes it worthwhile. While not as original or sharp edged as Cordelia Biddle's The Conjurer, it's still a well crafted and enjoyable story that makes good use of atmosphere (the London fog is practically a character), character and the deepening relationship between Lizzie and Ben. If the outcome and the characters are slightly predictable and familiar to readers of Victoria Thompson, Anne Perry and P.B. Ryan, this is still an enjoyable and worthy read which should appeal to anyone who likes to read historical mysteries.
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