Kathy Lynn Emerson





St. Martinís Press, 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Historical Mystery, Elizabethan England

Susanna, Lady Appleton, finds herself under arrest for the poisoning of her husband, who had run away to escape a traitorís death. In this unlikely plot Susanna, though indicted for his murder, is allowed to travel around the country investigating which of Sir Robert Appletonís former mistresses is the most liable to have killed him. Susannaís favorite candidate is Eleanor, mother of Robertís only child, though she finds herself emotionally drawn to both mother and daughter.

In this fourth book in the Elizabethan mystery series, we are reintroduced to the historically accurate Lady Mary Grey, heir to the throne, one of the better drawn characters in this book. Most are only as detailed as they need to be for the plot. It is assumed that we are already acquainted with the main characters, so the author shows them emotionally but not visually. Matthew Grimshaw, the Appletonís man of business, is the most successful character visually, but has little emotional dimension. Another of Robertís mistresses, Alys, has emotional impact but is useful only for her malice.

The best thing about this book is its readability. In spite of disliking it, I read it in two days between other activities. Here the author writes with a mental and emotional validity which makes it easy reading. The writing of Emersonís series has been steadily improving, from the first book, FACE DOWN IN THE MARROW-BONE PIE, which took me almost a week to read.

I feel the biggest flaw in FACE DOWN BENEATH THE ELEANOR CROSS is its plot, which has been done all too many times. Even when the "detective accused of murder" story was first invented, it needed to be extremely well written. When I identify with a detective, I find it impossible to enjoy the experience of being falsely suspected of murder and seriously in trouble with the law.

To no oneís surprise, Susanna Appleton will be returning for further investigations Ė we hope with a more viable plot. This is not the right book to start with, if you have not already made friends with the independent, self-reliant Susanna and her extended family in FACE DOWN IN THE MARROW-BONE PIE, FACE DOWN UPON AN HERBAL, and FACE DOWN AMONG THE WINCHESTER GEESE. These are fun reading for a fan of the genre with a feminist bent. If Susanna is already a friend of yours, you will of course want to read FACE DOWN BENEATH THE ELEANOR CROSS in spite of its flaws.

Sep 2003 Revised Review
June 2000 Version Published by Romance Communications


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