“Anna Castle continues her series of the adventures of Francis Bacon with this story of Elizabethan England poised on the brink of invasion, nervously awaiting some word of King Philip’s Armada.
Against this backdrop Castle introduces us to the delightful figure of Lady Alice Trumpington, who agrees to a distasteful marriage with an elderly nobleman and quickly drugs his evening drink so she can spend the night with her lover – only to find, in the morning, that somebody murdered her husband in his sleep, and she’s the prime suspect. A “guild” of wealthy and influential widows – led by none other than Bacon’s own aunt – drag Bacon into investigating the crime in order to clear Lady Alice, and he soon discovers a much larger threat.
As in Castle’s earlier book, Murder by Misrule, she brings the Elizabethan world wonderfully to life, and if Francis Bacon himself seems a bit overshadowed at times in this novel, it’s because the great, fun creation of the Widow’s Guild itself easily steals the spotlight.
– Editor’s Choice, Historical Novel Society
“The Widow’s Guild is the third Francis Bacon mystery in the series and, as such, it functions as both a stand-alone read and (even better) as an expansion of the prior mystery’s themes. Set in the politically stormy summer of 1588, the Spanish armada has been defeated, and Francis Bacon is involved not in a political war but in a personal battle when his assistant is accused of murder and locked in the Tower after trysting with a rich newlywed.
Bacon is tasked with proving his assistant’s innocence, which seems a fairly predictable turn of events given his relationship with the man and political connections that turn to him to solve cases of high-profile murders. What is less predictable (and wonderfully engrossing) is the turn of events that leads Bacon to realize that the real perp has something more insidious in mind than a singular crime.
As the nation recovers from months of war and Bacon undertakes a more dangerous battle on the home front, it quickly becomes evident that what drives The Widows Guild is not a politically charged atmosphere nor even a killer’s questionable motives: it’s author Castle’s attention to building historical atmosphere and intriguing twists that ply men and women against one another and expose some of the emotional perceptions of each sex: “Ben meant well, but if he thought she was going sit around on her lily-white arse embroidering cuffs while everyone else got to rove the city tracking crafty villains, he had not been paying attention during the past two years of their friendship. Besides, these crimes concerned her more than anyone else. She had a right to help solve them.”
Accidents that turn into strokes of luck, books with messages, and Bacon’s own confrontation with his role in society and its effect upon others (“That shamed Francis. How could he sit smugly in his comfortable chambers, never giving another thought to the men he had recommended for “further questioning”? This was where they went, he’d always known it. Perhaps he did have a moral obligation to face the result of his judgments, at least once.”) are steeped in the cultural and social atmosphere of its times and bring characters and events to life.
The result is a historical mystery that excels in depth as it presents a saga of vengeance and change, discussing character and theories of murder that takes Bacon his and readers on a whirlwind tour from dungeons to mansions in search of answers that question the very tenets guiding his life and actions.
Fans of historical mysteries will find this book just as captivating and well-done as the rest in a highly recommended read brimming with action and captivating scenarios.”
– D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book ReviewReturn to The Widows Guild