A Mystery Overshadowed by Romance

Shadow of the Raven: A Doctor Thomas Silkstone Mystery, by Tessa Harris, (Kensignton), 304 pages, release date January 27, 2015

Shadow of the Raven has the makings of a good mystery. The central character, Thomas Silkstone, is an American living in England at the close of the American revolution. He is a doctor with training in pathology, one who is treated with suspicion by most of those around him because he is a colonist. This offers all sorts of possibilities in depicting both the medicine and the politics of the period. Unfortunately, Shadow of the Raven reads more like a historical romance than a historical mystery and suffers as a result.

This fifth book in the Thomas Silkstone series is as much about the relationship between Silkstone and his beloved Lady Lydia as it is a mystery novel. One of the mysteries here is the fate of Lydia, who has been consigned to a madhouse by her wicked, unknown-until-recently father (Lydia’s mother had an on-going affair with the man) who has forged Silkstone’s signature on the committal documents and who intends to enclose the lands of Lydia’s estate—something she would surely refuse to allow under normal circumstances. (You can see why the book reads as historical romance.)

There’s a lot of back story packed into the first part of this novel, which explains the Thomas-Lydia relationship, but also interrupts the narrative flow. Readers are told “how ordered and logical [Thomas’] life had been up until the day Lydia has walked into his laboratory. She had pleaded for his help to uncover how her brother, Edward, the sixth Earl Crick, had died, and [Thomas] had found himself incapable of resisting her entreaties.” Silkstone tries repeatedly to contact Lydia in the madhouse, but “there seemed no logical way of dealing with these Machiavellian charlatans who had so blighted his beloved Lydia’s life and, therefore, his own.”

The second mystery of the novel is the more interesting one: a surveyor hired to facilitate the enclosure is murdered, presumably by one of the villagers who will lose his livelihood once the estate is enclosed. Here we see the impact of enclosure on rural villagers and also the justice system of the time, which acts with swiftness and, often, brutality—and which serves as a form of public entertainment.

The second mystery is resolved shortly before the end of the novel, while the Thomas-Lydia relationship provides a cliff-hanger ending, which again emphasizes romance over mystery. So, if you enjoy romance, you’ll probably find this  novel a good read, but for those of us who prefer a more complex mystery, this book may prove satisfactory, but not more.