The tangled relationships between Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary’s stepsister Jane Clairmont form the backdrop for an intriguing historical mystery, set in London in 1814, that explores the complex dynamic between sisters and the birth of teenaged Mary’s creative genius.
London, 1814: Mary Godwin and her stepsister Jane Clairmont, both sixteen, possess quick minds bolstered by an unconventional upbringing, and have little regard for the rules that other young ladies follow. Mary, whose mother famously advocated for women’s rights, rejects the two paths that seem open to her—that of an assistant in her father’s bookshop, or an ordinary wife. Though quieter and more reserved than the boisterous Jane, Mary’s imagination is keen, and she longs for real-world adventures.
One evening, an opportunity arrives in the form of a dinner guest, Percy Bysshe Shelley. At twenty-one, Shelley is already a renowned poet and radical. Mary finds their visitor handsome and compelling, but it is later that evening, after the party has broken up, that events take a truly intriguing turn. When Mary comes downstairs in search of a book, she finds instead a man face down on the floor—with a knife in his back.
The dead man, it seems, was a former classmate of Shelley’s, and had lately become a personal and professional rival. What was he doing in the Godwins’ home? Mary, Jane, and Shelley are all drawn to learn the truth behind the tragedy, especially as each discovery seems to hint at a tangled web that includes many in Shelley’s closest circle. But as the attraction between Mary and the married poet intensifies, it sparks a rivalry between the sisters, even as it kindles the creative fire within…
Praise for Death and the Sisters:
“Death and the Sisters
is a terrific blend of gritty history with a mystery that will keep readers turning pages. Impeccably researched and imaginative, Redmond’s first Mary Shelley Mystery immerses readers in the drama of young Mary Godwin and her family, as well as her budding romance with Percy Shelley, as they work together to solve a wonderfully bookish murder. I thoroughly enjoyed this series kick-off and can’t wait for the next story!”
~ Susanna Craig, author of The Lady Knows Best
“Death and the Sisters
is a rip-roaring murder mystery with twists and turns that introduces teenaged Mary Godwin, not yet the author of the immortal work Frankenstein, as an amateur detective. Redmond’s foray in the world of rational atheists in early 19th century London is a mesmerizing, forceful delight.”
~ Eilis Flynn, author of The Riddle of Rym
“Crafted with vivid historical detail, an artfully twisted plot, and engaging characters, Death and the Sisters
is an excellent start to what I hope will be a long-running series.”
~ Dianne Freeman, author of the award-winning Countess of Harleigh Mysteries
“It might be the way London comes to life in all of its dark and gritty complexities, or the dynamics between Mary and her step-sister, Jane, as they set out to find the killer of the man who they discover dead in the bookshop. Everyone is a suspect—even Percy Shelley who has caught the eye of the women in the household. Propulsive and immersive, Heather Redmond is at the top of her game until the intense and satisfying end.”
~ Mary Keliikoa, author of Hidden Pieces
“An intrepid cast of characters, a stunningly atmospheric 19th-century London, and a riveting murder… Highly recommend.”
~ Melissa Bourbon, bestselling author
Genre: Historical mystery
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: September 2023
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781496737991 (ISBN10: 1496737997)
Series: Mary Shelley Mystery, 1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Kensington
Heather Redmond has once again transported us to the enchanting world of Regency England in her latest historical mystery, Death and the Sisters. I was immediately drawn to the book by the striking cover and having read past work by her I knew I wouldnt be disappointed in this one!
The character development is a strong suit in Redmond’s storytelling, and Death and the Sisters is no exception. We see a headstrong and engaging protagonist, who refuses to be bound by societal norms. Her determination and independent spirit make her a refreshing lead. The supporting cast adds depth to the story, each character is memorable and leaves you guessing about their true intentions. I really enjoyed the realistic setting and dialogue.
The mystery at the heart of the novel is intriguing, and Redmond crafts an elaborate plot filled with numerous twists and turns that keeps readers engaged from start to finish. The pacing is generally well-done, although there are moments when it feels slightly uneven, and some chapters could have benefited from more interactions.
Death and the Sisters is a captivating historical mystery that immerses readers in the Regency era. Heather Redmond’s writing and research shine through, delivering a vivid sense of time and place. I love that her passion for this time period really shines in her writing. If you’re looking for a novel that blends history, mystery, and a hint of scandal, Death and the Sisters is a must-read.
Read an excerpt:
“Come, Mary.” Jane flopped onto her bed. “Tell us a story about the prisoner ghosts wailing.”
“I’ll have to think it up,” Mary said and then began to quote. “‘This relation is Matter of Fact, and attended with such Circumstances as may induce any Reasonable Man to believe it.’”
“What’s that?” Jane asked. The floor creaked as she kicked off her slippers and knocked them to the floor.
“Defoe, I think,” Mary said, already considering the form of her story. If only Mother had written such fanciful tales, to give her ideas on how to construct them. “I’ll consult his works in the bookshop for further inspiration. It seems like quite a good start to a ghost story.”
Mary placed her slippers next to Jane’s and walked down in her stocking feet, hugging the wall so as not to set off the worst of the creaking stairs. If Mamma heard her, she’d be set to mending something. Her stepmother never thought about the cost of candles when she could make her daughters work themselves into exhaustion after dark.
The bookshop’s interior door hung open. Very odd, as Mamma was particular about making sure that the smells of domestic life, particularly cooking odors, did not damage the books.
Mary shrugged, glad she had come downstairs, because if Mamma had been the first to notice, she’d have no doubt blamed Mary. She lit the lantern kept in readiness for customers who wanted to browse in the dark corners.
While she knew exactly where Defoe was kept, she first went to a back corner of the shop and dropped to her knees, then pulled out a much-loved volume that Mamma kept in stock because she knew that it sold, even though it was anything but highbrow or philosophical. Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. Feeling a little breathless, like a Gothic heroine about to swoon, she opened the book to her favorite page. With the lantern held over the engraving, she examined the bare legs of the man removing a blindfolded girl from a house.
She bit her lip as she looked over the engraved musculature, feeling a familiar shiver dance up through her body. Did Shelley have legs so magnificent? He certainly possessed the broad shoulders and narrow waist of the figure on the page. She set down the lantern when it shook in her hand.
“Oh, to see a form like that,” she whispered to herself. None of her Scottish suitors had possessed a body she wanted to caress. As such, none of them had enticed so much as a kiss from her. After a last heated glance, she closed the book and tucked it away again.
The next shelves were in front of the bow windows. The Juvenile Library was shelved there, at the perfect height for children. Works of historical merit were on the other side. Mary rose.
Her foot twisted as she took the first step. She grabbed for the edge of the bookcase with one hand, the other gripping the lantern tightly. Her fingers were trembling by the time she righted herself. She reached down and swiped at her foot. Something sticky coated her fingers. What was on the floor?
“Honestly,” she muttered to herself. More cleaning. She set the lantern on the bookcase and walked past the windows. Slatted lines from the shutters were illuminated by the oil lamp that burned all night at the corner of the road.
Distracted by the sudden reflected light, she tripped again. “Blast,” she cried.
When she tried to take another step forward, her way was blocked by something solid. Confused, she prodded it with her foot. It felt warm, dry, and slightly yielding. She backed up to take the lantern in her hand again, then cupped the side of it with her hand to keep the illumination from the road. When she reached the mass again, she held the lantern out over the floor.
Her mouth dropped open when she saw what lay in front of her. A man, like something out of a painting of the French Revolution, was sprawled on the floor. Facedown. She swept the lantern over his body. Her hand shook as she saw first one knife, then another.
The first was impaled in his back. The other, in the mysterious recesses between his legs.
“Faith!” Wobbly, Mary blinked hard, then forced herself to kneel down beside the sprawled figure, to touch the man’s hand.
Still warm. She squeezed it, feeling that strange sensation of callused male flesh under hers, then dropped the hand. What was she doing? Molesting a corpse?
She scooted back, her eyes closed, then opened them again, feeling her lips tremble at the sight of the dark blue velvet coat, the dark stain around the knife gleaming wetly in the light. She knew that coat. Shelley! That fine figure of a man, ended so cruelly. They had just seen him leave not twenty minutes earlier. Had he been accosted in the street and dumped here?
“I could have loved such a being.” Tears sprang to her eyes, and she let them fall, keenly feeling her sensibility. Hadn’t he said he was a new father? And his poor young wife, not even twenty yet, a widow.
Drat that Jane. Could she not offer up a moment’s solitude to anyone?
Her stepsister’s footsteps came closer, along with the bobbing of a candle flame.
“Don’t come any closer,” Mary warned. She set the lantern down.
Ignoring her, Jane came down the space between the bookshelves and turned in the nook in front of the windows.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Mary scrambled to her feet, hoping to block her sister’s view. The candle wavered as Jane took in the scene. She gasped loudly.
“What,” Jane asked, “is that?”
“Knives,” Mary said. “Murder has been done here.”
“What?” Jane repeated, some frantic power coming into her voice. “Papa?”
“No,” Mary said, grabbing the candleholder before the candle dropped. “Shelley.”
She saw what was going to happen and held up her other hand, hoping to forestall it. But she failed, and Jane, coming closer, screamed. Mary bent under the onslaught and grabbed her sister’s hand.
“Hush,” she begged, pulling her away. “We have to tell Papa before the watch comes.”
Though Jane resisted, Mary pulled her through the bookshop, then forced her to sit on the steps and hold the candle while she went back for the lantern. She set it on the table in the hall.
“Stay here,” she commanded.
“But,” Jane whispered. “But the body.”
“Papa will know what to do.”
“But the watch.”
“Papa should call them, not us. Do you want him surprised?”
“The bookshop,” Jane said next.
“Yes, it’s very bad,” Mary agreed.
“It isn’t S-Shelley,” Jane stuttered. “He just left.”
Mary pulled the handkerchief from her sleeve and tucked it into Jane’s unresisting hand. “It must be,” she said. “Who else? Cry quietly, please.” Hoping her sister obeyed, she picked up her skirts and ran up the steps to her father’s library.
Excerpt from Death and the Sisters by Heather Redmond. Copyright 2023 by Heather Redmond. Reproduced with permission from Heather Redmond. All rights reserved.
Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century.
She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, has received a coveted starred review from Kirkus Reviews.
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