TAINTED INNOCENCE by Joss Alexander

Published by Carina Press, September 2012

Blurb

In Cambridge, the College of the Young Princes brings together all manner of people-with all manner of secrets. Among them is Bryony, an illiterate laundress and a stranger to the town, who lives in constant fear that her unusual upbringing and lack of friends will leave her vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.

When Matthew Hobson, a scholar at the college, is found murdered and wrapped in linen that Bryony lost, she immediately becomes a suspect. But she is not the only one. Luke Hobson, a taciturn local tradesman who has sacrificed much for his charismatic but selfish brother, also has a motive for the murder.

With the university authorities eager to solve the crime, outsiders Bryony and Luke are forced into a wary alliance, knowing they have to track down the killer if they are to escape hanging. But can they trust in each other’s innocence in order to uncover the truth?

RHL Classifications:

Heat Level 1 Historical Mystery

Tudor

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 STARS

Review by Caz

This is a strong début from Joss Alexander, a murder-mystery set in sixteenth-century Cambridge. The writing style is good, and the author has a good eye for historical detail, but the story did take rather a long time to get going. The first few chapters jump between characters and locations without really establishing exactly how these people relate to the story and there are a couple of points at which the author goes off at rather a large tangent. I could have forgiven that perhaps, had that turned out to have some bearing on the outcome of the story, but that wasn’t the case and I think that the book would have benefitted from a stronger editorial hand. in fact, had I not received a review copy, I might have given up and moved on to something which was more immediately engaging.

But that said, once the story does get going, it’s a good one. The author’s descriptions of the city are very evocative, and the principal characters are generally well-drawn. The story centres around the murder of Matthew Hobson, one-time scholar, ladies’ man and general ne’er-do-well, his dour and hard-working half-brother, Luke and the college laundress, Bryony.

Bryony is somewhat of an outcast, being of gypsy blood, and as such, a likely suspect for murder and witchcraft; and Luke and his brother were known not to be on good terms. Both are suspects in the murder, so they decide to work together to find the true culprit, thereby establishing their own innocence. There are hints throughout of a potential romance between Luke and Bryony, but they are both wary – he because of the way his mother deceived his father, and she because she doesn’t really fit in and is circumspect about giving her trust. In fact there are a couple of occasions in the story where Luke and Bryony are drawn into mistrusting each other, and are quick to jump to the wrong conclusion. But by the end of the book, they have reached an understanding and are cautiously feeling their way towards each other.

There are a number of well-drawn secondary characters, many of whom could easily be the guilty party, although I have to say that the final reveal did come rather out of the blue – but that could well be because I’m not a great reader of mysteries and I missed some of the clues along the way. In short then – an enjoyable, well written mystery overall, but which needed a bit of direction in the opening chapters.

With thanks to Carina Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. Current favourite authors include Meredith Duran, Sherry Thomas and Cecilia Grant.

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