||January 20, 2010
When headless corpses appear in London,
Elizabeth Tudor is shocked. When one of
her ladies is killed, she joins
crippled Simon Maldon and a Welsh Guardsman to find the killer.
As they narrow their search, the
murderer stalks them as well, and one, maybe even two of them, could
wind up dead.
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In London, a tavern girl is found dead, her head missing. She is the third such victim, and the beheaded women may be a message to King Henry VIII, who has a history of beheading wives.
Simon Maldon, a cripple, meets the Princess Elizabeth while assisting his physician father. Coming to visit one morning Simon finds one of her ladies now a fourth headless corpse dressed in nun’s robes.
Hugh Bellows of the Welsh Guard is put in charge of investigating and ending the crimes, and at Elizabeth’s urging, he reluctantly engages Simon’s help. They use various means to gain information, but the Princess’ involvement draws the killer’s attention to her.
Simon is an enterprising youth who is ashamed of his withered arm. Determined to make his way in the world without pity from others, he learns coping techniques from Captain Bellows, from other men of the Guard, and even from a disreputable thief called Peto the Pope. Simon finds talents in himself he’d never recognized, and he enjoys the adventure despite the danger it poses. Colorful London characters emerge as Simon searches for clues to the killer’s identity: whores subject to the oversight of the Anglican Bishop himself, courtiers to whom the slightest notice of the King is a lifetime’s desire, and all manner of common laborers, both honest and not. Familiar characters and events of the time serve as backdrop as the three sleuths try to understand how women of widely varying backgrounds are killed, why they are dressed as nuns, and what has happened to their heads.
Prologue: February, 1546
The landlord of the Ox with Flowers glanced up as Mathilda hurried through her duties, her pert face serious for once as she worked. “Got an appointment, Tildy?”
The pretty wench grinned impishly, perfect front teeth showing white in the rushlight. “What would you care, John, with that wife o’ yours always keepin’ an eye on ye?”
Throwing the sodden rag used to wipe the tables into a bucket in the corner, Mathilda surveyed the room, nodded satisfaction, and pulled her cloak from a peg on the wall.
“It’s a cold night out there,” John warned.
“It is that!” She gave him a saucy wave as she closed the door behind her.
Outside, Mathilda hardly noticed January’s cold bite, though the wind threatened to tear the woolen scarf from her head and lashed her heavy skirts around her ankles. When her handsome lover had proposed a private supper a day earlier, his accompanying look had promised more.
Although a country girl until recently, Mathilda was not backward. Things were not so different in London as elsewhere; she knew what was expected of girls like her and accepted that it was why men came to them. The lover she hurried to meet tonight was different, though. Well-dressed and well-spoken, he treated Tildy, only a runaway from Lincolnshire, like a lady, buying ribbons for her heavy mane of hair and stockings finer than any she’d ever owned. Lately he had hinted that he might set her up in a small house. A girl like her could not ask for more, but if she pleased him, why not a cozy home where he could visit when he liked and be her only man? She hated life at the Ox, although it was a convenient place to meet the men whose lust brought her extra money. Life there could not compare with the chance to be a rich man’s kept woman: secure, pampered beyond any standard Tildy had ever known.
As the landlord had warned, the night was cold. Stars appeared to hang directly overhead, their light adding no warmth, only breathtaking beauty had the girl stopped to consider it. Hurrying out of the inn’s courtyard and down the winding street, Tildy hardly felt the sharp gusts that wrapped around the corners of buildings set higgeldy-piggeldy, making the street sometimes wide, sometimes narrow. Expanding businesses often simply built into the street, making passers-by walk around the extensions.
Coming around a wall poorly built and probably unsafe, Tildy saw him ahead. Wrapped in a long, dark cloak, her lover waited at an alleyway. His eyes shone hungrily in the moonlight, as if he’d missed the sight of her. Tildy felt that burning gaze warm the air around them.
Knowing better than to touch him first, the girl simply stopped within reach of his arms, smiling rather self-consciously. “Little Mathilda.” His voice was hoarse with desire. She saw him look around, checking the street behind her and at his own back. No one. How afraid he is that he’ll be seen by one of his fine friends, she thought, caught with his doxy from the Shambles! A moment’s bitterness marred the meeting: even if Tildy got her little house, this man would always be ashamed of their liaison.
The thought faded as her lover’s arms went around her, drawing Tildy with him into the shadows of surrounding buildings. He kissed her with all the fire that had burned in his eyes moments before, hands caressing her throat gently. The girl consoled herself: I may be only a doxy, but he will be mine forever; I’ll make sure of it!
It was the last pleasant thought Mathilda had, for the hands on her white throat tightened in the darkness, squeezing until she fought to be free of them, uselessly, fleetingly. As her lifeless body sank, the same hands pulled her farther into the alley, where her body suffered such indignities that death had been a mercy after all.
Starred Review from Library Journal Herring, Peg. Her Highness' First Murder: A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery. Five Star
When the headless corpses of young women litter the streets of London, an aging Henry VIII sends his trusted captain of the Welsh Guards to find the killer. Hugh Bellows is aided by Simon Maldon, the crippled son of Henry's former physician, and 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth. As the three investigate in their own distinctive fashion, they form a tight-knit bond. VERDICT This historical series debut delivers the goods with panache. The danger of living in a politically unstable England as its king slowly dies in agony is vividly portrayed here, and the discovery of the murderer's identity is carefully plotted. Highly recommended for fans of Elizabethan mysteries by Karen Harper, Kathy Lynn Emerson, and Fiona Buckley.
Her Highness' First Murder: A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery Peg Herring. Set in 1546, Herring's captivating debut depicts the future Elizabeth I as a keen and shrewd detective. A killer is stalking London, beheading young women and dressing their bodies in nuns' clothes. When one of the princess's own ladies becomes a victim, the 12-year-old Elizabeth, daughter of the now failing Henry VIII, joins with her friends Simon Maldon, a physician's son, and Hugh Bellows, the captain of the king's Welsh Guard, in the hunt for the murderer, though they're careful to keep Elizabeth's involvement a secret from her father. Filled with colorful and believable characters from all classes of society, the story moves swiftly to its dramatic conclusion. Fans of historical mysteries will look forward eagerly to the next in the series. (Jan.)
HER HIGHNESS' FIRST MURDER Author: Herring, Peg Review Date: NOVEMBER 01, 2009
Herring (Macbeth's Niece, 2007, etc.) pairs a future queen and a physician's son to hunt down a depraved murderer.
Young Simon Maldon strikes up an unlikely friendship with Princess Elizabeth when his father is called to Hampstead Castle to treat a household servant. Henry VIII is in his last years, his only son is sickly and daughters Mary and Elizabeth are kept in the background, away from the devious political maneuvering at court. When a headless woman is found in the castle garden, Simon and Elizabeth secretly aid Hugh, a captain in the Welsh Guards who's been tasked with finding the killer. The murdered girl, a pretty but stupid member of Elizabeth's household, was not the first to die in this fashion. The other victims were women of easy virtue whose deaths attracted little attention, even though the corpses were dressed as nuns with rosaries by their sides. After they learn that a tall man wearing a richly decorated cloak was seen in the area of each crime, Simon roams the streets of London artlessly asking questions about the murdered women while Elizabeth decorously calls on members of the aristocracy. Among the possible suspects are Elizabeth's castellan, several handsome but dissolute courtiers, a known criminal and a madman. As the murders continue, the investigators must divine the ruthless killer's motives before he strikes again.
Elizabeth and Simon are believable sleuths in a promising volume rich in historical detail and intended as the first of a series.
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