Jane Austen meets Sherlock Holmes when a crime wave sweeps through 19th-century London's Jewish community and the adventures of wealthy-widower-turned-sleuth Ezra Melamed are recorded for posterity by Miss Rebecca Lyon, a young lady not quite at the marriageable age.
In this third volume of the series, tragedy strikes when the Jewish orphanage's children are stricken with a mysterious and nearly fatal stomach ailment. When the ailment travels to the Mayfair home of Lady Marblehead, a young Jewish physician is accused of poisoning his patients - a suspicion that is further fuelled when a priceless pearl bracelet is discovered missing from Lady Marblehead's jewellery box.
As more outbreaks occur, an increasingly hysterical community turns to Mr Ezra Melamed to investigate the case. But once again there are too few clues and too little time, especially since the littlest victim, a frail orphan boy, is already almost at death's door.
I was intrigued by the setting for this cozy mystery novella, in that the author combines the traditions of the Jewish Community with the attitudes and ignorance-based prejudices towards them in Regency times. The main character, a delightful, well-meaning young lady called Rebecca Lyon, recounts events in a novel-style reminiscent of Jane Austen. She also tends to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but we are left in no doubt that her heart is in the right place.
The novel opens with a genteel tea party attended by some larger than life characters, including the revered neighbourhood matchmaker, who may have been a caricature but strikes just the right note of superiority and wisdom.
These ladies are set on making life better for their less affluent new neighbours, a young doctor and his sister, but things start to go horribly wrong when some of his patients begin to fall mysteriously ill.
We are also taken into the cruel London underworld, where life is hard and cheap, orphans die and the elderly without resources are left to fend for themselves. There is the Fagin-style and deliciously named ‘Earl of Gravel Lane’, who runs a gang of criminal orphans, some of whom start to die but he proves his worth in finding out if their deaths are accident or design.
A mysterious illness visits the neighbourhood, and the gallant young doctor is no longer the hero but may be the cause, then there is Lady Marblehead’s missing bracelet, a lady who could give Miss Faversham a run for her money! Clues abound, conclusions and judgments turn out wrong and take the characters down the wrong path.
An enjoyable read with a satisfying ending. The author’s website gives details of other Ezra Melamed Mysteries, which I shall certainly look out for.
Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author, her latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is released by Pen and Sword Books under the name Anita Seymour