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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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01/16/2006 Archived Entry: "Book Review: The Siren Queen"

The Siren Queen
by Fiona Buckley
Published by Pocket Books

Review by Kathryn Ramage

The Siren Queen is the latest Ursula Blanchard mystery, set in the age of Queen Elizabeth I. Ursula is a lady of the court, an unacknowledged illegitimate sister of Elizabeth, and she serves as a sometime spy on the queen's behalf. This latest story in the series is wound around the historical 1569 Ridolfi Plot, in which an Italian nobleman involved various nobles of England--some willingly, some unaware of what they were getting into--in a complex conspiracy to see Mary, Queen of Scots, restored to her own throne... and eventually to Elizabeth's, with a corresponding return of England to Catholicism.

Ursula stumbles onto this plot while visiting the Duke of Norfolk's home in London with her husband and young daughter, when a courier bearing encrypted letters is murdered. A second murder soon follows within the Duke's household, and Ursula is requested by Sir William Cecil, Her Majesty's Secretary of State, to look into things.

As historical novels go, it's a good presentation of Elizabethan London, with fictional characters interacting easily with real historical figures, and nothing egregiously anachronistic: we are treated to a witchcraft trial and some naughty topiary. There's a nice sense of suspense as Ursula deciphers the coded messages and uncovers the plot. But where the story fails, in my opinion, is in the murder mystery itself: it's too obvious early on who the murderer is--not through any poorly placed clue, but through the author's and Ursula's assessment of one of the characters. As I was reading, I hoped I was wrong, that it wouldn't be as obvious as that... and to my disappointment, it was.

So, my advice to those who enjoy historical mysteries is to read The Siren Queen as an Elizabethan political thriller, but don't expect much of a whodunnit.

Note: Powells and Simon and Schuster have a different (red) cover for this title. However, the ISBN and description are the same, so we have no reason to believe it isn't the same book Ms. Ramage reviewed. ED

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