Shadow of the Raven
Dr. Thomas Silkstone #5
By Tessa Harris
Author’s Website: http://www.tessaharrisauthor.com/
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
*May contain mild spoilers*
CSI meets the Age of Reason with a well-drawn, intriguing cast of characters (Karen Harper) in Tessa Harris’s superbly plotted historical mystery series, featuring eighteenth-century anatomist and pioneering sleuth Dr. Thomas Silkstone. In the notorious mental hospital known as Bedlam, Dr. Thomas Silkstone seeks out a patient with whom he is on intimate terms. But he is unprepared for the state in which he finds Lady Lydia Farrell. Shocked into action, Thomas vows to help free Lydia by appealing to the custodian of her affairs, Mr. Nicholas Lupton. But when Silkstone arrives at the Boughton Estate to speak to Lupton, he finds that sweeping changes threaten to leave many villagers destitute. After a man dies in the woods, it appears that someone has turned to murder to avenge their cause. But for Thomas, a postmortem raises more questions than answers, and a second murder warns him of his potentially fatal situation. Soon he discovers a conspiracy far more sinister than anything he has ever faced. (Goodreads)
In this fifth installment of the series, Shadow of the Raven, we find Dr. Thomas Silkstone beside himself about his love, Lady Lydia. She has been committed to the Bedlam asylum by her estate’s custodian Sir Montague Malthus. He is desperate to free her but is not even allowed to see her. Sir Montague and the estate manager Nicholas Lupton have plans to enclose Boughton Estate, and this enclosure would have devastating effects on the villagers who work the land. The locals believe the common areas are theirs by right, bequeathed to them by the “Lady of Branwick” years ago, and rebel against the changes. Sir Montague hires Jeffrey Turgoose, a master surveyor and cartographer to map the estate, but he is shot dead while exploring the woods. Thomas is called upon to investigate the death. Through his investigations, Thomas finds that the enclosure is just the beginning of Sir Montague’s plans and encounters more deaths, a smuggling den, highwaymen, and trials for the falsely accused in his efforts to get to the bottom of things. In addition, he learns that Lydia believes he was responsible for her commitment and that she no longer trusts him, and he is devastated when he reads her obituary in the newspaper.
This is the first book of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone series that I have read, and I think not having read the others impeded my enjoyment of the book somewhat. The author did a good job of providing a condensed version of events leading up to the current story, but I feel that I missed quite of bit of background information that would have allowed me to enjoy the characters more than I did. I do like Thomas with his high sense of right and wrong and perseverance in trying to free Lady Lydia. His being a displaced American colonist added an interesting perspective. I found the historical references interesting, though sometimes repetitive, and the pathological and medical practices of the time fascinating. The villagers provided local color, and Sir Montague and Lupton were sufficiently despicable and gleefully easy to dislike. My problem was mostly with Lady Lydia. I understand that she was a victim of circumstances beyond her control, but her brainwashed behavior here left me lukewarm about her welfare, and I found it difficult to understand why Thomas felt so strongly about her. I trust reading the other books might change my mind about her.
There are actually several mysteries going on at once: the murder of the cartographer, the reasoning behind the estate enclosure, the smuggling ring, another death the result of foul play, and the cause of a mystery illness affecting the villagers. These were all interesting and interrelated, but they all seemed overshadowed by Thomas’s quest to learn Lydia’s whereabouts and fate. Thus, is read much more like a romance than mystery at times. And then, there was a dreaded cliffhanger ending which left loose ends and the future of main characters in question. Of course, I need to know what happens next. Perhaps that is just a good marketing strategy.
I did enjoy Shadow of the Raven and fully intend to go back and read the prior four books in the series. They should really be read in order. I recommend this tale to fans of the series, historical mysteries and romances.