Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A Very Murdering Battle by Edward Marston

Captain Daniel Rawson is a member of His Majesty's forces in France, where England is fighting a battle against King Louis XIV. Under the command of the Duke of Marlbrough, the English forces have the French on the rocks, and the English hope to force a peace treaty. Unfortunately, the French are being unusually stubborn, and Marlborough is feeling tired and let down by the Queen due to his long role in the war.

But it isn't Marlborough's successes or failures that are troubling the Queen, but his opinionated wife, whose constant trumpeting of her own positions in opposition to the Queen is causing the Queen to look on Marlborough with disfavor and distaste. And while Marlborough realizes the cause of the Queen's distress, it doesn't help him rein in his wife or her opinions, and he's feeling put-upon that he hasn't gained more preferment from the battles he's already fought. In fact, he only has one thing to look forward to in all of this, and that is the tapestry he has commissioned from edward Janssen, the father of the woman that Daniel Rawson loves.

The tapestry depicts the Battle of Ramilles, the last large battle in the war. Marlborough has commissioned the tapestry for his estate and for the happiness of his wife, so when it is stolen from Janssen's studio, he sends Daniel, his best spy and investigator, to find out what happened to the tapestry and retrieve it for him.

Janssen is not well, though. The theft of the Tapestry has made him extremely unhappy, and he feels responsible for the theft, berating himself over not taking greater care to protect the precious work. But when Daniel and his friend. Henry Welbeck, come to the city of Amsterdam to track down the tapestry, they must determine how it was stolen as well. Janssen has three apprentices, one of whom is dumb, and they know he could not have spoken of the tapestry to anyone. But the other two, Kees Dopf and Nicolaes Geel, seem to be trustworthy, and Janssen treats them almost like his sons. But which of them betrayed him, and was it wittingly or unwittingly? And for that matter, can Daniel use the two men to help track the thieves to their lair and get back the tapestry?

Meanwhile, Henry Welbeck has problems with women, being unhappy and ill at ease around them. He had been pursued by a Welshwoman named Rachel Rees, but he didn't want anything to do with her, viewing her as entirely too forward and conniving. But an encounter with Amalia Janssen's maid, Beatrix, sees him finally comfortable around a woman. Could he be mellowing towards women?

When the tapestry is finally retrieved, Daniel and Henry return, with the tapestry, to Marlborough. But a new battle is looming with the French, and it will be the most dangerous one yet. Daniel finds Rachel Rees returned to the battle as a victualler, and asks her help in finding out the truth of the troop strength in a French village named Malplaquet. But the French are setting a trap for the English army, bolstered by a new General, and this one is so tricky that it seems that the British are in for a very hard time. Can Daniel, Henry and Rachel Rees make it through the battle in one piece, and what will become of Amalia as her father's apprentice Nicolaes Geel becomes dangerously enamoured of the woman he has admired for so long?

Meanwhile, Rachel Rees is working her wiles on Henry Welbeck, seducing him with gifts of tobacco and rum. But can her gifts soften his hard heart towards her and his utter distaste for women? Or will it be the knowledge that someone else has his eyes on Rachel Rees be the thing that finally moves him into valuing her and wanting her to be around? But as the two armies clash and many on both sides are killed, what will become of our two Englishmen? Can they survive the coming battle with limbs and lives intact?

I liked this latest installment of the Daniel Rawson series, which combines mystery and fighting with a strong dose of spying and battles in dark alleys where Daniel's life is always on the line. Daniel, being part-Dutch, but raised wholly English for most of his life, is a cultural chameleon, able to move in any company and seem to belong there.

Now, though, it's not just Daniel at risk from his spying activities, but Amalia herself who is at risk as one of her father's apprentices takes an unwarranted interest in her, and he hopes to win her for his own. But while we, the readers, worry that her safety is at risk from someone very close at hand, while Daniel is away in battle, he nearly dies after being shot in the midst of battle, raising a satisfying dichotomy of which is in the greatest danger.

My only complaint was that Henry Welbeck's softening towards Rachel Rees seemed a little too quick, but I realize that not everyone may feel this way. I enjoyed the ending and wondered if the series might be ending as well, with the two main characters in relationships. But the war isn't over, and I don't think the series will end this soon. How Amalia and Rachel will figure into the series in the future is something of a mystery, though.

I enjoyed this series a lot, as it hss the perfect combination of mystery, danger and espionage, with a slight smattering of politics to top it off. It makes for a very enjoyable and engaging read, and this is a series that you will enjoy if you like your mysteries slightly... different. Highly recommended.


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