July 24, 2020

Deadly Curious

Written by Cindy Anstey
Feiwel and Friends
304 pp.
Ages 13-18
June 2020

Investigating required a fair amount of questioning, thinking, and rethinking–mental exercises that she found invigorating. But there was a noble purpose to her questions now: solving a crime. What could be more rewarding than assuaging the pain brought on by the premature ending of a life? Yes, Sophia nodded to herself, she had found the perfect way to spend her days. (pg. 99)
Eighteen-year-old Sophia Thompson, first introduced in Cindy Anstey's The Hummingbird Dagger, has decided that, now that her prospects for marriage have dissipated because of family troubles, she will pursue a career as an investigator. Reading "Investigating Murder and Mayhem: A Runner's Journey" with aspirations of becoming the first woman to be appointed to London's police force known as the Bow Street Runners, Sophia responds to a summons from her cousin Daphne Waverley who fears the ineptitude of the local constable looking into the murder of her older brother, Andrew, a year earlier. But a request has also been made for Bow Street to assist the haberdasher-cum-constable Marley so new trainee Mr. Jeremy Fraser, 20, is sent with a driver/assistant Hal Stacks to the town of West Ravenwood.

But with a recent change of law that prohibited hunting on common lands, many locals see Mr. Fraser as an authority figure and are reluctant to assist him in his inquiries. Fortunately, Sophia, who is seen as being a harmless woman, places herself in a position to help the attractive Mr. Fraser. With her irritable Uncle Edward having recovered a knife in the woods, the scene of the crime, Aunt Hazel spending an inordinate amount of time with the Reverend's daughter, Charlotte Dewey, who makes herself quite at home at Allerton Park, and a series of mishaps threatening both Daphne and Sophia, the young woman feels compelled to work with Jeremy to share information and pursue her own inquiries, with her lady's maid Betty in tow. 

In a twisted story, intricate with subplots of poaching, jealousy, murders old and new, and romances suitable and not, Deadly Curious keeps the reader enthralled, never knowing whether a knife merchant or a local constable or even an herbalist might have a role in the multiple murders that take place around West Ravenwood. Though I may have guessed the involvement of one character–my years of reading Agatha Christie and other cozies has given me practice in predicting outcomes–Cindy Anstey has created a multitude of sophisticated characters who all seem to be viable suspects. From a footman and housekeeper to the local surgeon and even Daphne's other brother William, all are complex and multi-dimensional and present as potential threats. Moreover they all react realistically and uniquely and the reader will feel as if they've been dropped into a Jane Austen mystery with charming characters and reprehensible ones, from the landed gentry to merchants and those in service. And the plot will carry them all from the unknown of a whodunit to a satisfying resolution and even a happy ending and new beginnings.

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Though several of the characters in Deadly Curious were introduced in Cindy Anstey's The Hummingbird Dagger (2019), readers can be assured that Deadly Curious is a solid standalone historical YA mystery.  Still I encourage all readers to also read The Hummingbird Dagger for an equally compelling Regency mystery with a hint of romance.

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