Friday, 15 January 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Widow's Guild by Anna Castle

Sir Francis Bacon sits on a commission charged with uprooting seditious Catholics from Elizabethan England. Meanwhile, one of Bacon's young assistants, Tom Clarady, is implicated in the murder of elderly nobleman and recusant Catholic, Viscount Surdeval, due to Tom's entanglement with the Viscount's young new bride turned widow, Lady Alice (Trumpet). Soon it becomes clear that Viscount Surdeval is not the only prominent recusant to have recently fallen to murder shortly after being questioned by the commission. So begins Bacon's quest to solve the killings, notably at the behest of his overbearing mother and aunt, key members of The Widow's Guild, an organization intent on its own interests.

The Widow's Guild has a strong, intricate plot (with interesting subplots) buttressed by solid historical research. The characters are well-developed and engaging. The dialogue is natural and easy to follow despite holding to Elizabethan conventions. At times there is a slightly frustrating tendency to gloss over in description, dialogue and events that the reader should be shown. For example, in their initial conference with Bacon, Tom and Trumpet are described as contradicting each other to the point that Bacon tunes them out. It would have provided greater depth to the plot and these characters to see them actually start hanging themselves by their own words rather than just be told that they had.

Likewise, there is a slight tendency to provide extensive detail on items that are incidental to the plot (e.g. backstory, settings, clothing, personal preferences). For example, Bacon's carriage ride conversation with the Earl of Essex provides important information that almost gets lost in the additional details provided. Such overt demonstration of historical research might work better in the background, being brought out when directly related to the conversation or action.

That said, there are a delightful number of red herrings to keep the reader guessing and the end reveal still managed to shock. It was an enjoyable and entertaining read. I am curious as to what happens to the characters next.

4 out of 5 stars

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