In Candace Robb’s latest historical novel, The Service of the Dead, we are introduced to widowed tradeswoman Kate Clifford who, apparently, we will be hearing from in the years to come. It’s an amazing book and hard to put down.
Set in Northern England at the cusp of the 15th century, Service covers the unrest between King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke — who eventually becomes King Henry IV and the first Lancastrian Plantagenet monarch.
The setting for this novel is in the city of York in Northern England. There is much tension because of the warring Lancastrian factions, as well as familial and revenge skirmishes so close to the Scottish border.
We know, for instance, that Kate’s twin brother (Geoff) died as a result of one of those family tensions. Interestingly, she seems to have constant communication with him as his voice is noted in italics when Kate is thinking.
We also know that Kate’s early married life with her deceased husband Simon was difficult, even though she is only twenty when the book opens. However, young or not, Kate is a modern woman in that she takes control of her finances and the properties she now owns, so that she won’t have to get remarried.
One of those properties, a guesthouse for wealthy merchants who want to spend a night with their mistresses, is the scene of the first murder.
Kate has a very loyal staff which she treats as part of her family, as well as a couple of young wards, Marie and Philip, a brother and sister who lost both their parents. And, then, there are her two very large wolfhounds, Lille and Ghent, like bodyguards, they follow her everywhere and are trained to answer to her commands.
Being a mystery, there are several deaths, some gruesome. However, Robb does not deal with blood and gore. She approaches the deaths after they have occurred. The first death happens to what appears to be a travelling merchant staying in Kate’s guesthouse, but turns out to be a King Richard man. However, they don’t know that at the time they find him strangled in the bed curtains.
Suffice to say, without spoiling this story, the underlying tensions are mostly, although not entirely, related in some way to the King Richard and Bolingbroke situation.
I very much like Kate and look forward to the next book in the series. It appears that she will be a type of late medieval detective that has to continually deal with family members and the competing Plantagenet tensions. In the final chapter, for example, readers meet Kate’s controlling mother for the first time — which I assume is an introduction to the next book.
I highly recommend this novel which I found at my local public library. It was published by Pegasus Books on May 13th, 2016 and has 235 pages — although strangely, I noticed on Goodreads that it said there were 352 pages.
My rating is 5 stars out of 5.