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Assassin: Lady Grace Mysteries    by Patricia Finney order for
by Patricia Finney
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Thirteen-year old Lady Grace Cavendish lost her parents. Her father died in royal service when she was a babe. Her mother died when Grace was twelve - from poisoned wine mixed with darkwort, meant for Queen Elizabeth I. Lady Grace is now a Queen's Maid of Honour, under Elizabeth's guardianship. Assassin is narrated in the first person in Lady Grace's daybooke presented in journal format, with witty, captivating entries. The tale is enriched by the eloquence of Elizabethan language, e.g. 'high birth and low pockets' and 'first Lady Pursuivant' (someone who pursues wrongdoers for the crown).

The St. Valentine Ball is approaching and Lady Grace is to choose a suitor for the time she becomes 'handfasted' (engaged) at the age of sixteen. Three suitors present Lady Grace with a gift - Sir Charles gives a silver-chased ivory flask; Lord Robert Radcliffe presents a pearl necklace, and Sir Gerald Worthy offers a jewelled knife. Grace chooses the pearls, dubbing Lord Robert as her formal suitor. Later that same night the body of Sir Gerald is found in his bedroom with the jewelled knife in his back. A piece of Lord Robert's clothing is found at the scene, and he is immediately taken into custody.

Lady Grace gains the Queen's permission to secretly investigate the murder. Grace's friends - Masou (a court acrobat and juggler), and Ellie (a maidservant) - join her search for the truth. Grace notes the absence of blood around the knife, 'For if he was already dead, the tides in his blood would have stopped, and thus no blood would have streamed from the dagger wound.' This finding indicates that he was dead before the knife was inserted. Grace finds a yellow substance at the corner of Sir Gerald's mouth, the same substance found on her mother's mouth from darkwort poisoning.

Ellie and Grace pose as maids while searching various chambers. In Lord Robert's quarters they find a suspicious letter written to his mother. Forced to hide under the bed in Sir Charles' room, they hear an unexpected voice. The entrant is addressed by his servant as 'Mr. Amesbury'. Hmm! Doesn't Charles have a look-alike brother? Is there an imposter amongst the Queen's court? Lord Worthy, uncle to Sir Gerald, also comes under suspicion. Would he have killed his own nephew?

I highly recommend Assassin as a sparkling combination of mystery and history, with surprising sidesteps, excellent momentum, and likable characters who engage the reader's attention. Historical fact and personages add depth to a story whose daring 16th-century heroine has much in common with 20th century Nancy Drew. The back of the book includes 'Notes About Poisons ... and Apparel' and 'The Fact Behind The Fiction'. For those who want more of Lady Grace, Betrayal is also available. I portend a bright future for the Lady Grace Mysteries.

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