Christmas Day, Kent, 1796
On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond. It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate.But with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task.
Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor’s attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.
Historical crime fiction is one of my favourite genres and The Body in the Ice by A J MacKenzie is a most enjoyable read. It’s the 2nd Hardcastle and Chaytor Mystery set in Romney Marsh and the surrounding countryside in 1796-7. I haven’t read the first one in the series, The Body on the Doorstep, but it didn’t seem to matter as I had no difficulty in reading this as a standalone, even though there are references back to the first book, but I do intend to read it as I enjoyed the second book so much.
Reading historical crime fiction is a different experience from reading modern crime fiction – no modern technology, just old-fashioned crime detection and deduction and a certain amount of intuition. The late eighteenth century is a newish period for me, but The Body in the Ice appears (as far as I can judge) to be well grounded historically and geographically.
Historically this is the period after the end of the American War of Independence, so Britain and America are at peace, but Britain and revolutionary France are at war with the constant threat of a French invasion. Geographically, the area is not one I know but there is a map showing the locations together with a plan of New Hall, at the beginning of the book an empty and bleak (fictional) house owned by the Rossiter family, and also the Rossiter Family Tree.
The winter of 1796-7 was exceptionally harsh and cold and on Christmas Day in the village of St Mary in the Marsh, on the Kent coast Amelia Chaytor is spending the day with her friends, spinsters Miss Godfrey and Miss Roper when their maidservant bursts in and announces that she has seen someone at New Hall stables, frozen into the ice face down. Previously two men had been seen arriving at the Hall and at first it looks as though one of them has killed the other as they have both disappeared.
The Reverend Hardcastle is informed and as a justice of the peace he sets out to investigate the murder, aided by Joshua Stemp, the parish constable. It’s soon obvious that this is a complicated matter as the body they pulled from the ice was that of a black woman, dressed as a man.
Add into the mix the American family who arrive after the murder to establish their claim to their ancestral home, the village community, smugglers and French spies, and slavery and racism. The characters of Revd Hardcastle and Amelia Chaytor in particular are well drawn and convincing. His sister, Cordelia provides a comic element – she is a gothic novelist, who incidentally gave a young Jane Austen writing tips, accompanied by her cowardly (but lovable) dog Rodolpho.
It’s fast paced, and like all good mysteries it’s full of twists and turns, tension and drama, mixed together with both national and local politics. I enjoyed it immensely and will read more books by A J Mackenzie. The next book in the series will be The Body in the Boat.
My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book.
A J Mackenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians. They write non-fiction history and management books under their own names, but ‘become’ A J MacKenzie when writing fiction. For more details about the authors and their books see their website.
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1094 KB
- Print Length: 368 pages
- Publisher: Zaffre (20 April 2017)
- Source: Review copy
- My Rating: 5*