cover image Forest of Secrets

Forest of Secrets

Fiona Buckley. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5050-8

Early in Buckley’s atmospheric 19th Tudor mystery (after 2020’s The Scent of Danger), Ursula Blanchard, a prosperous widow and half-sister to Elizabeth I, receives a strange visitor at her Surrey home. Etheldreda Hope has come from the village of Chenston, where her mule giving birth to a foal is arousing her neighbors’ fears that she’s a witch. Even more worrying, Etheldreda reports that secret rites are being committed in the forest outside Chenston, and the group’s unknown leader says they must “bring about the death of an evil queen, to save an honest queen.” Since Ursula works as an agent on Elizabeth’s behalf, off to Chenston she must go. There she finds the villagers in thrall to odd beliefs and pagan practices, but do these have anything to do with a conspiracy to put Mary, Queen of Scots, the queen’s rival, on the throne? The well-defined secondary characters who accompany Ursula add to the intrigue, notably her resourceful manservant, Roger Brockley, who’s determined to protect her from the dangers they encounter, but sometimes fails to do so. Only a flat and abrupt ending disappoints. Buckley makes full use of a fascinating time and place in British history. Agent: David Grossman, David Grossman Literary (U.K.). (June)