Death of a Colonial

Bruce Alexander, Author Putnam Publishing Group $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-14564-3
Blind 18th-century magistrate Sir John Fielding, hero of Alexander's popular series of historical detective fiction (Jack, Knave and Fool, etc.), here lends his investigative skills to the mystery surrounding the claimant to the vast estate of the late Lord Laningham. Since Fielding sentenced the last heir, Arthur Paltrow, to hanging for murder, he has a personal interest in the case. As before in the series, events are filtered through the eyes of Jeremy Proctor, the orphan Fielding unofficially adopted, whose natural talent for tracing the logic of events is fostered by the magistrate. The Fielding mysteries are always notable for their sense of place and rich historical detail, but Alexander relies more than usual this go-around on his descriptive powers, capturing perfectly the sybaritic pleasures of 18th-century Bath and the ebullience of the university community at Oxford. The plot, by contrast, feels perfunctory. If the claimant is illegitimate, the estate will go to King George III, and the king's solicitor-general, Sir Patrick Spenser, has convened a secret committee to make sure that the king gets his due. The claimant, who calls himself Lawrence Paltrow and is supposedly the younger brother of Arthur Paltrow, has turned up in England after eight years in the colonies, and his mother, overlooking certain physical discrepancies, claims to recognize him. Fielding reluctantly takes on the task of disabusing the mother. Promptly after his visit, she is killed--a death in which the circumstances recall an eight-year-old unsolved murder. What gray eminence stands behind the sequence of events in both deaths? This is a brisk and picturesque outing, but its relatively weak story line separates it from Alexander's best. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 402 pages - 978-0-7838-8823-1
Mass Market Paperbound - 320 pages - 978-0-425-17702-0
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