Murder at Whitehall
An Elizabethan Mystery #4
By Amanda Carmack
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
- 1559. The Twelve Days of Christmas at Whitehall Palace will be celebrated as a grand affair. But there are those who wish to usher in the New Year by ending Queen Elizabeth’s reign….
Despite evenings of banquets and dancing, the European delegates attending Her Majesty’s holiday festivities are less interested in peace on earth than they are in fostering mistrust. Kate, the queen’s personal musician, hopes she can keep the royal guests entertained.
But then Queen Elizabeth receives a most unwanted gift—an anonymous letter that threatens to reveal untoward advances from her beloved Queen Catherine’s last husband, Thomas Seymour. Tasked with finding the extortionist, Kate has barely begun investigating when one of Spain’s visiting lords is found murdered. With two mysteries to unravel and an unsettling number of suspects to consider, Kate finds herself caught between an unscrupulous blackmailer and a cold-blooded killer….(Goodreads)
Set against the twelve days of Christmas in 1559, Murder at Whitehall, the fourth book in its series, is a suspenseful look into Elizabethan life from court musician Kate Halloway’s perspective. Full of period detail and Yuletide festivities, it is an entertaining tale with plenty of intrigue to please most any reader.
Everyone seems to be feeling a bit nostalgic in Queen Elizabeth’s court this holiday season, and the queen wants to make it the most festive Yule she has had since she was a child with her step-mother Queen Catherine Parr. The court is full of visiting courtiers – rival French and Spanish ambassadors and rebels from Scotland. Elizabeth beckons Kate, already busy as the queen’s personal musician, to not only plan the nightly festivities but to look into the actions of the queen’s cousin, Lady Catherine Grey. Many people expect Lady Catherine to be named the heir to the throne, but she seems to be a little too friendly with the visiting ambassadors from Spain. But can her odd behavior simply be blamed on love? Kate receives a gift of her own when her father and the other former court musicians arrive for the celebrations, and her potential love interest, actor Rob Cartman, comes to lend his performance troupe for the queen’s pleasure. Unfortunately, someone is out to ruin the queen’s holiday by leaving a threatening drawing and an effigy. When one of the visiting secretaries from Spain is found in the herb garden murdered (or is it suicide?), Kate knows she must step up her efforts to find out what is going on so that no harm comes to Elizabeth.
Even though Murder at Whitehall is the fourth book in the Elizabethan Mystery series, I think it can be easily read as a standalone. I have not read the prior books and had no problems keeping up, however I do think there are several references to earlier books that are spoilers, so beware. I read a great deal of historical fiction and mysteries, but I am no expert on the Elizabethan age or the Tudors. Other than my initial struggle to keep all of the characters straight (there are many Catherines, Janes, and Marys), I found the mix of fictional and historical characters and the grand descriptions of fashion and customs of the day fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the subplot of Kate’s discovery of secret code hidden in the music. Kate is an appealing character. As a musician, I can easily relate to her, but I also admire her intelligence, good sense, and loyalty to Elizabeth. I like Rob and Kate’s father Matthew as well and really felt their obvious affection they for Kate. However, I think Lady Catherine is a silly, silly woman only interested in what she wants without regard for the consequences and ramifications of her actions and decisions.
The mystery itself is slow to get moving. The death does not occur until 160+ pages into the story. I appreciate all of the lead up and background information, but without knowing who the victim is, I noticed that I did not always pay particular attention to tidbits that would later prove to be important. That said, I did guess whodunit and the identity of the mystery woman at the inn very early into the tale. This ultimately did not deter from my enjoyment since the scheming and number of characters involved provided plenty of twisty elements to the plot. On a side note, there did seem to be noticeable editing and consistency errors that I found distracting, such as referring to the victim by the wrong name for several pages and someone’s eyes described as pale gray in one paragraph only to be defined as bright blue in the next paragraph.
Overall, Murder at Whitehall is a pleasant read with a fun and interesting look back at how Christmas was celebrated in the sixteenth century. I recommend it to readers who enjoy a rather complex mystery and historical setting and characters.