THE PRICE OF MURDER: A Sir John Fielding Mystery

Bruce Alexander, Author . Putnam $24.95 (257p) ISBN 978-0-399-15078-4

In Alexander's 10th enjoyable Sir John Fielding novel set in Georgian England (after 2002's An Experiment in Treason), the brilliant blind magistrate and his young apprentice Jeremy Proctor investigate the brutal murder of a little girl whose mother had sold her into slavery. The trail leads Jeremy into a new world, the racetrack, as he joins forces with the victim's uncle, legendary jockey Deuteronomy Plummer. The challenges of the inquiry mount, as crucial witnesses turn up dead and evidence suggests that a member of the upper class is involved. The assistance of Jeremy's almost-fiancée, Clarissa Roundtree, proves vital when her childhood friend Elizabeth Hooker disappears only to resurface after a melodramatic escape from a brothel—a subplot borrowed from a celebrated real-life unsolved mystery. As with other recent entries in this fine series, the once-dominant Sir John plays a largely supporting role. His sage advice and struggle to serve justice in a corrupt milieu guide his assistant's growth and maturation. This shift also mirrors a trend to underplay the whodunit aspect. Routine police procedure has largely supplanted Holmesian deductive pyrotechnics. Restoring the old balance by adding to Jeremy's sleuthing skills in future entries might win more classic mystery fans. (Oct. 13)

FYI:The subplot, based on the unexplained disappearance of a young woman named Elizabeth Canning, takes center stage in Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair (1948) and is "solved" in Lillian De La Torre's Elizabeth Is Missing (1945). Arthur Machen's The Canning Wonder (1926) provides the definitive nonfiction account.

Reviewed on: 08/18/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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