Saturday, December 29, 2007

Kathy Lynn Emerson's Face Down Elizabethan mystery series

I began reading Kathy Lynn Emerson's Face Down series in 2006 and finished two more of the books this past year. These enjoyable mysteries, set in the England of Queen Elizabeth I, feature Susanna, Lady Appleton, a sharp-eyed, tart-tongued sleuth with little patience for the restrictions her society places on women. Emerson has populated the novels with interesting people and filled them with details about what life was like in Elizabethan times, from the food served at meals, to herbal remedies, to the miseries of travel. While reading each novel, I enjoyed revisiting Susanna's England and catching up with my favorite characters.

Here's a quick recap of the books I've read so far:

  1. Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie. Susanna and her husband, Robert Appleton, wage a classic battle of the sexes when she goes behind his back to investigate the death of his steward. This enrages Sir Robert, the typical Elizabethan misogynist with definite ideas about "a woman's place" (even toward his sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth). Susanna always stays one step ahead of her husband, which irritates him to no end. My grade: A-
  2. Face Down Upon An Herbal. Susanna Appleton investigates forgery, treason and murder in this somewhat convoluted mystery. It is one of the weaker novels in the series but still worth reading for its development of Catherine, Robert's half sister, who becomes a major character from this book forward. My grade: B-
  3. Face Down Among The Winchester Geese. My favorite book in the series thus far, Winchester Geese was a riveting read with an explosive ending. Susanna hunts for a serial killer who murders one woman each year, while Robert pursues a scheme he hopes will give him everything he's ever desired ... but that could lead to his ruin. Lady Mary Grey, sister to the ill-fated Lady Jane, plays a major role in the story. My grade: A.
  4. Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross. Robert is murdered, and suspicion immediately falls on Susanna, who must unmask the real killer before she is tried and executed. This page turner was nearly as enjoyable as Winchester Geese. My grade: A.
  5. Face Down Under the Wych Elm. Susanna races against time to save two women unjustly accused of witchcraft, one of whom is a former mistress of Robert's. Emerson enlivens the story with a subplot about Susanna's new romance with the merchant, Nick Baldwin, another terrific series character. My grade: A-
  6. Face Down Before Rebel Hooves. Susanna infiltrates a ring of Catholic conspirators who lead an uprising against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. The book was another page turner; however, I was dismayed by the ugly behavior of two of my favorite characters, Nick Baldwin and Sir Walter Pendennis, rivals for Susanna's affections. My grade: B
  7. Face Down Across the Western Sea. Susanna investigates murder among a group of scholars researching England's claim to the New World. The mystery itself was confusing and somewhat far-fetched, but several subplots revealed new depths to familiar characters. My grade: B-

After Western Sea, publication of the series shifted from St. Martin's Press (hardcovers) and Kensington Mystery (mass-market paperbacks) to Perseverance Press, which is bringing out new novels in beautiful trade paperbacks. The next three novels, along with a short-story collection, await me on Mount TBR.

For a list of the complete series, visit Emerson's Web site here.

1 comment:

Marg said...

I've not heard of this series before but I do like historical mysteries! Thanks for posting about them.