On a Desert Shore, Review~
As I’m sure anyone might realize by now, I love all types of mysteries and many times historical mysteries. On a Desert Shore is the fourth book by S.K. Rizzolo in her John Chase/Penelope Wolfe Regency Mystery Series and I’ve loved all the other books. Rizzolo’s mysteries are to me those for a very intelligent type of mystery reader, not the cozy type. In each book, she increasingly takes on tougher social issues of the day with her characters.
Taking place in the early part of the 19th Century, during the Georgian era in London, Bow Street Runner John Chase is tasked with protecting an heiress of a wealthy merchant, yet her mother is a slave from the Jamaican Island, which causes issues of acceptance. She was to marry and be in good social standing, but when it doesn’t work she is sent to live with the family of Hugo Garrod. Strange occurrences begin and Chase begins to wonder who is at fault? The heiress or outside forces against her? Penelope, at the moment employed by Garrod due to her use of her pen, also gets involved and together with Chase they work to solve the case.
I think the original and admirable theme underlying this particular mystery is Rizzolo taking on the prejudice of Londoners when slavery was the great moral question of the time. Using the character of Marina, daughter to her father’s slave, Rizzolo showcased how nobility asserted their control over others, even as the walls of slavery and racism were trying to be torn down. Her parallel to American society and the issues we still struggle with today are very evident. Do we ever learn? Her underlying message of what occurs when we try to mold people into something we want or desire took shape and made me ponder how our society still implies that differences in people aren’t acceptable.
Her characterization, as always, is well-done so that you can visualize and feel the emotions of many of the characters. It was entertaining to see John and Penelope again and watch them as they piece together the puzzle. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow and change with each book, even though you don’t have to read them all to enjoy one of the books. With twists and turn, and clever dialogue and description, the mystery is plotted with excellent thought.
Rizzolo truly allowed Marina to come off the page as the story read on and we begin to pull for her to find her place based on her internal respect for herself and her personal strength. I felt connected to Marina in ways that allowed me to see the story partially through her eyes.
Educated prose, social warnings, and a solid who-dun-it should have you buying this book for its unique historical undertaking of an issue that assaults us still 200 years later. The historical accuracies of the time she peppered into her novel about the Jamaican and West Indies people, and their migration to England or use by English nobles, was very interesting and not a common theme that you see in any other historical fiction or mystery novels. She’s obviously done her research and put in extra effort surrounding this plot. It’s highly discernable that she cared to get the characters and their historical accuracy for the time period and situation as correct as possible.
I highly recommend On a Desert Shore to readers who enjoy smart and interesting topics surrounding their mystery. I enjoyed spending some time getting immersed into this book over a weekend, but most importantly, with this book, she gives us quite a bit to think about as well. Rizzolo just keeps writing better and better.
On a Desert Shore: A Regency Mystery (Book #4 of the John Chase/Penelope Wolfe Regency Mystery Series) by S.K. Rizzolo
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Poisoned Pen Press Hardcover, Paperback, eBook; 270 Pages
Genre: Regency Mystery
Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiress—daughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican property—is no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.
John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victim—or is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.
Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the façade of propriety masks danger.
To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, reveal a clever killer.
On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.
Author S.K. Rizzolo, Biography
S.K. Rizzolo earned an MA in literature before becoming a high school English teacher and writer. Her Regency mystery series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. On a Desert Shore is the fourth title in the series following The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles.