The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards is such a good book that I had to put to one side the other books I was reading in order to concentrate on this one alone. It is a fascinating book. Not only is it set in the Lake District, a beautiful part of the country but it is a mystery of the best kind. Ten years earlier Emma Bestwick had disappeared. At the time there had been no apparent reason why she vanished into thin air but more information is revealed following an article in the local paper appealing for the case to be re-opened on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance. There are many twists and turns as Detective Inspector Hannah Scarlett’s Cold Case Review Team carries out its investigation.
This is the third book in Martin Edwards’ Lake District mystery series but it stands well on its own. I haven’t read the first two yet – The Coffin Trail and The Cipher Garden – but I will. I only wish I’d come across these books before. Martin has a very good website giving much more information – see here.
The central characters are Guy, aka R L Stevenson, (you know someone is not who he says he is when he introduces himself as R L Stevenson and Guy has many secrets!), Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind, a former historian who has left Oxford to live in the Lake District. As Miranda, Daniel’s partner becomes less enchanted with living in the Lakes, preferring to live in London, the relationship between Daniel and Hannah is resumed (there is obviously some history to their relationship in the earlier books – I think I’ll have to read those books soon). Daniel meanwhile carries on with researching Ruskin’s life and his dread of “industry encroaching on the glory of the Lakes”, but also gets caught up in Hannah’s investigation.
Soon attention turns to the Arsenic Labyrinth, hidden in the hills on Mispickel Scar. The labyrinth was on the ground level with “shafts and tunnels from the mines winding around the length and breadth of the Scar.” (The author’s note at the end reveals that arsenic was never mined in Cumbria.) The arsenic works brought about the ruin of the Inchmore family and Mispickel Scar is said to be cursed. Alban Clough, the fount of all knowledge on local mythology, is the owner of the Museum of Myth and Legend, where Emma had worked for a while. But just where did the legend of the curse of Mispickel Scar originate? And what is the connection between the Clough and Inchmore families and Emma’s disappearance? Tom Inchmore, was the only suspect at the time of Emma’s disappearance but he died some years ago – did he kill her? How does her sister, Karen cope with Emma’s death and where do Francis and Vanessa, who Emma lodged with, fit in? To complicate matters it turns out that Vanessa was previously married to Jeremy, Karen’s husband. The overlapping and complex relationships are eventually sorted out, but just when you think you’ve worked it all out there are yet more complications. I never guessed who-did-it until just before the end.
There is mystery upon mystery as the secrets of the Arsenic Labyrinth are revealed. An engrossing book that had me racing through it and itching to get back to it each time I put it down.