Book Review: THE SERVICE OF THE DEAD, Candace Robb

The Service of the Dead, Candace Robb (Pegasus Books, 2016)

Historical mystery, first in a new series set at the end of the 14th Century, during the struggle over whether the rightful king should be Richard II or Henry Bolingbroke.

Protagonist is Kate Clifford, a young widow in York struggling to continue her late husband's business and also renting several properties as guesthouses. An unexpected part of her husband's estate turns out to be two children by a secret French mistress, orphaned after their mother's own death; Marie and Philippe are left almost literally at Kate's doorstep. Kate also has to deal with servants, retainers, and various relatives, some trustworthy, some not. And some taking part in the political turmoil between Richard II and Bolingbroke, though choosing any side at all was a dangerous choice.

When a murdered man is discovered in one of Kate's guesthouses, a deadly game begins, as Kate tries to determine the man's turn identity and loyalties, and in how much danger that truth will place her. More murders will occur before that truth is found.

Kate, as a character, grew slowly for me, and early chapters felt slow as a result. As more of Kate's own backstory is revealed -- she was sent south into an English marriage to protect her from a Hatfields/McCoys-type feud on the Scottish borders where she was raised, even though she is herself skilled with knife and bow and axe -- she became more interesting, and the book more enjoyable.

In some ways, this book feels almost like a prequel, introducing and setting up the gameboard and pieces that will be played in future volumes. (The second book in the series, A Twisted Vengeance, is out.) That setting-up process felt slow in the beginning, but sped up satisfactorily by the end. I'll give it four stars out of five.

(Won in a Goodreads Giveaway.)