Absent Friends

Gillian Linscott, Author Minotaur Books $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-20765-6
In 1918, 17 women stood as candidates in the first general election in England in which women could vote. In her eighth Nell Bray adventure (following 1998's Dance On Blood), Linscott adds her fictional heroine to their number. The months following the end of WWI are hardly an auspicious time for women to enter the political arena, for the Tories and Liberals that ran the government together during the war have decided to put up Coalition candidates instead of competing against one another. But Nell would run for a seat in Parliament anyway, if she had the money. Her wish is unexpectedly answered when an affluent widow offers to fund her campaign on the condition that Nell look into the sudden death of her husband, who was blown to bits by a suspiciously powerful firecracker. Lucinda Sollers believes her deceased ex, who was the Coalition's candidate for MP, was murdered by the local potato farmer who usurped his place on the ballot. So Nell heads off to Duxbury (near the Welsh border) with her ally and former lover, Bill Musgrave, for an election campaign and an investigation. Both prove dangerous--and exciting, as Linscott captures the bustling activity of political work as well as the intricacies of Nell and Bill's sleuthing. Complicating matters is the slow rekindling of the duo's relationship, after a four-year hiatus. The campaign is marred by more than the usual minor violence, with attacks directed at all the candidates; a cruel hoax also figures in, before the election is concluded and the mystery solved. Linscott successfully animates rural Duxbury with a bevy of curious characters--tanners, farmers, magistrates, etc. Her deft blend of social and cultural history with artful mystery makes for another worthy entry in a solid series. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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