Friday, December 28, 2007

A Bucket of Ashes - P. B. Ryan

A Bucket Of Ashes
A Gilded Age Mystery
P. B. Ryan
Berkley Prime Crime


Governess Nell Sweeney (last seen in MURDER IN THE NORTH END) is spending August of 1870 with the Hewitt family, and in particular, her six-year-old charge, Grace, at their beach house in Cape Cod. While there, she’s surprised at a visit from Dr. Greaves, the man who took her into his home and taught her what she knows about nursing, and about how to comport herself with the upper strata of society. He knows about her past, unlike the Hewitts, and has kept her many secrets. He’s come to deliver crushing news to Nell. Her last remaining sibling, James (Jamie) died two nights ago in a fire. And when he died, he was wanted for murder.

Nell feels her life, so carefully separated from her secret past, coming undone. Her position as governess depends on her blameless reputation. All would be lost if it were revealed that her brother was a murderer. But Nell feels compelled to investigate the murder and, she hopes, clear her brother’s name no matter what the cost to her.

Her past is not the only secret Nell is hiding. She believes that she may be carrying the child of Will Hewitt, son of her employer. She is alone with this fear, since Will is currently stationed at the German border, serving as a field surgeon, at the request of President Grant. Her carefully woven cloth of obfuscation may be unraveling, but Nell is determined to do the right thing for all involved.

It pains me to know that, according to the author, this will be the last installment of this series. Readers who have not read past books may not feel the same affinity for the characters as do longtime readers. It’s not strictly necessary to have read prior books, as this works fine as a standalone, but newbie readers may feel they’re missing a lot of the nuances, especially in the relationship between Nell and Will.

As always, the author excels at setting the scene, evoking the time and place by use of the day-to-day details as well as historical events. The resolution of the central mystery is almost secondary to the revelations about Nell’s past and the way the author ties up all the loose ends of her present situation. Longtime readers will enjoy this aspect immensely; I know I did. This has been a gorgeously written series, populated with unique and unforgettable characters. I’m truly sorry to see it end, and will, no doubt, be re-reading these keepers.

Rating: 8
December 2007ISBN# 978-0-425-21873-0 (paperback)


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