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The Service of the Dead: A Novel (Kate…
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The Service of the Dead: A Novel (Kate Clifford Mystery)

by Candace Robb

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Showing 5 of 5
I was introduced to Ms. Robb through her Owen Archer series of books and I must say that I really enjoyed them so when I was offered the chance to review the first book in her new historical mystery series I quickly accepted. She stays close to familiar areas – York – but moves ahead in time by 100 years or so. Flipping genders with protagonists the reader is presented with a bold and intelligent woman as the heroine of these books. Her name is Kate Clifford and she is loosely attached to the very powerful Neville family.

Kate is a widow who is respected in the town but she hides any number of secrets, number one being that her guesthouse is really nothing more than a convenient location for the rich men in town to meet their mistresses. But there is power in knowing what men don’t want known in a time when women don’t seem to hold any of their own. But therein lies one of my issues with the book – Kate is a very 21st century woman in a 15th century world. In fact, I often forgot I was reading a book set during the time of Richard II. There were passing references to attire or a cobblestone but for the most part there was no sense of time or place for that matter.

The plot was intriguing and I did enjoy the book. The characters were many and I admit it took a bit to keep them straight but I can see how Ms. Robb was setting up her players for the coming books in the series. There were several crumbs dropped for the immediate and for the distant future. I will enjoy following these characters as they traverse their history which I suspect will become more evident as they are forced to confront the events that are coming. I suspect the next book might be placed more firmly in time. I also suspect that Kate will continue to defy her time and be a very independent woman. She is a marvel. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Aug 26, 2016 |
Candace Robb is another of those writers who has been on my List for a very long time despite the fact that her writing is not my very favorite. Her books are go-tos, reliably good reads when I feel like picking up a book from a certain period, but her characters do not linger with me once the book is put down; it's one of those examples when I feel an invisible barrier between me and the writing. Not sure if this will make sense, but Candace Robb is a writer whose books mean reading someone's writing, as opposed to losing myself – and the writer – in the work.

That being said, I don't ever regret picking up a Candace Robb. If the writing is not transparent, it is very good – for the most part, I believe what I'm told and trust the world-building. Certainly, this particular book contains some of the most realistic depictions of looking after large dogs I remember seeing; our heroine Kate's two wolfhounds, Lille and Ghent, are main characters, and are present during most of the book. I just wish I knew whether it was my failing or the author's that either I never learned or didn't learn till the end (sorry – one problem with writing the review a while after finishing the book) whether Lille was male or female. And, actually, not to be contrary, but there may have been a little too much of looking after the dogs … The plot was driven largely by Kate taking the dogs out for walks in one direction or other, and by how well trained they were.

The one area where I seriously questioned the milieu was the idea that Kate ran her little inn as a secret place of illicit assignation. It never sat well. It's an interesting idea (and actually similar to one I came across in another book a while ago), and I could see it happening: young woman is approached by someone who offers her money to use her rented room as a place to meet with a lover, young woman realizes this is an untapped vein she should be taking advantage of… But it just didn't work here for some reason. The fact that Kate is twenty years old – a fact which faded in my mind as I read, so that when it was reiterated late in the book I thought it must be a mistake – was hard to accept in the circumstances. A fifteenth-century widow living alone and taking care of business is certainly not impossible – but at twenty - ?

On the whole, it was – as I expect from the author – a good read, and kept me guessing. It wasn't the best thing I've read this year, nor by any means the worst. It was solid.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review. ( )
  Stewartry | Jul 26, 2016 |
Candace Robb is another of those writers who has been on my List for a very long time despite the fact that her writing is not my very favorite. Her books are go-tos, reliably good reads when I feel like picking up a book from a certain period, but her characters do not linger with me once the book is put down; it's one of those examples when I feel an invisible barrier between me and the writing. Not sure if this will make sense, but Candace Robb is a writer whose books mean reading someone's writing, as opposed to losing myself – and the writer – in the work.

That being said, I don't ever regret picking up a Candace Robb. If the writing is not transparent, it is very good – for the most part, I believe what I'm told and trust the world-building. Certainly, this particular book contains some of the most realistic depictions of looking after large dogs I remember seeing; our heroine Kate's two wolfhounds, Lille and Ghent, are main characters, and are present during most of the book. I just wish I knew whether it was my failing or the author's that either I never learned or didn't learn till the end (sorry – one problem with writing the review a while after finishing the book) whether Lille was male or female. And, actually, not to be contrary, but there may have been a little too much of looking after the dogs … The plot was driven largely by Kate taking the dogs out for walks in one direction or other, and by how well trained they were.

The one area where I seriously questioned the milieu was the idea that Kate ran her little inn as a secret place of illicit assignation. It never sat well. It's an interesting idea (and actually similar to one I came across in another book a while ago), and I could see it happening: young woman is approached by someone who offers her money to use her rented room as a place to meet with a lover, young woman realizes this is an untapped vein she should be taking advantage of… But it just didn't work here for some reason. The fact that Kate is twenty years old – a fact which faded in my mind as I read, so that when it was reiterated late in the book I thought it must be a mistake – was hard to accept in the circumstances. A fifteenth-century widow living alone and taking care of business is certainly not impossible – but at twenty - ?

On the whole, it was – as I expect from the author – a good read, and kept me guessing. It wasn't the best thing I've read this year, nor by any means the worst. It was solid.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review. ( )
  Stewartry | Jul 4, 2016 |
Katherine (Kate) Clifford is a widow in late 14th century England. Her deceased husband left her some buildings, one of which happens to be an inn (of sorts) and a pair of orphaned children as her wards. When one of the clients at the inn is found murdered, Kate enlists the help of her household servants to find out whom this man might be and why anyone would want him dead. As she delves into the mystery, other individuals who were reported to be in attendance the evening of the murder meet similar fates. Who is doing this, and why?

I enjoyed this book very much, it was hard to put down. The twists and turns in the plot were very nice. Characters are well developed, which I expected from this author. Her other books are all very well written. I will definitely be looking forward to more books in this series. ( )
  GayleBitker | Jun 28, 2016 |
This historical fiction novel is the beginning of a new mystery series series set in York, England in early 1399.

At this time in history, factions were lining up behind the two claimants of the throne of England: the then-current occupant, Richard II, and Henry of Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster and Richard’s first cousin. The tension between the two had come to a head in 1398, after Richard banished Henry from the kingdom. When Henry’s father died the next year, Richard took away Henry’s automatic right to inherit his father’s land. This did not sit well with Henry. [Soon afterward, but later than the events in the book, Henry began a military campaign against Richard, deposed him, and had himself declared King Henry IV in October of 1399. Henry imprisoned Richard, who then died under suspicious circumstances.]

The main protagonist of The Service of the Dead is Kate Clifford, only 20 but a widow after three years of marriage. Her late husband Simon, who died two years before, left her with some properties and his trade business, but a lot of debt, so Kate turns one of the properties into a guest house. When travelers are not using the rooms, she rents them out by the night to wealthy local merchants who need a place for trysting.

Besides massive debt, she inherited other burdens from Simon. One is his nasty brother Lionel, who keeps trying to marry Kate off so that she would have to give Simon's business to Lionel, as specified in his will. Simon also left two illegitimate children, whose mother died a year after Simon, and who are now in Kate's care. Phillip is 12 and a relatively good child, but 9 year-old Marie is a trial, to say the least.

As the story begins, someone has been murdered in Kate’s guest house, and furthermore, the murdered man had papers on him linking him to the conflict between Richard and Henry. Kate is desperate to cover up the killing, which threatens to destroy her “delicate enterprise” at the guest house, “a business that could survive only if the powerful in York felt the house was safe, secret.”

Alas, the murders start piling up, despite the best efforts of Kate and her loyal maid and cook, Jennet and cook Berend, to figure out who is behind this series of crimes. Eventually they do, of course, but in the process, their own lives hang in the balance.

Evaluation: Kate is an admirable female character who is in a constant struggle to maintain her independence as a woman at a time when options for women were few and far between. The political intrigue of the time takes a back seat to Kate’s personal plight in this book, but that may change in the books that follow. I look forward to seeing where the author will take this series. ( )
  nbmars | May 11, 2016 |
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