cover image The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

Elsa Hart. Minotaur, $26.99 (354p) ISBN 978-1-250-14281-8

Hart (City of Ink and two other mysteries featuring 18th-century Chinese librarian Li Du) establishes herself as a versatile talent with this exceptional standalone set in 1703 London. Botanist Cecily Kay has left her diplomat husband behind in Smyrna to spend time in the home of Sir Barnaby Mayne, a legendary collector, who believes his holdings “contain no less than the future course of all knowledge toward the secrets God left for man to discover.” Kay hopes to use Mayne’s collection of plants to help her classify the flora she collected in Smyrna. She’s delighted to find that Mayne’s other guests include a childhood friend, Meacan Barlow, an artist who’s been retained to illustrate a new catalogue of the nobleman’s possessions. Both women’s plans are disrupted when Mayne is found stabbed to death in his study, with the bloody knife in the hands of another member of the household, who confesses to the murder before fleeing. The astute Kay doubts the confession’s truthfulness, but her pursuit of answers puts her in danger. The author has a gift for vivid similes (randomly displayed objects are “like guests at a poorly planned party who cannot find a common topic of conversation”). Hart is bound to become a household name for readers who love clever and fair whodunits. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, Gernert Co. (Aug.)