Friday, May 14, 2010

The Poyson Garden by Karen Harper

The letter came in secret, with a pearl eardrop from an aunt long thought dead, resurrecting the forbidden past. Banished by her spiteful half sister, Queen Mary, to Hatfield House in the English countryside, twenty-five-year-old Princess Elizabeth cannot refuse the summons. The Boleyns are in grave danger. And Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, is marked for death by a master poisoner whose reign of terror may have royal sanction.

With her few loyal retainers, Elizabeth escapes to Kent. Here, in her ancestral Hever Castle, now held by the Queen's loyalists, Elizabeth seeks to unravel the plot against her. And here, in the embrace of intrigue and betrayal, the princess must find a brilliant, powerfully connected killer-before the killer finds her....

I was a bit wary of an historical mystery featuring Queen Elizabeth I as an amateur sleuth. I have no trouble with fictional detectives but believing in real people is a bit different as I discovered when I tried to read a book featuring Jane Austen as a detective. Sadly that was also a problem here.

Princess Elizabeth, living is Hatfield at her sister’s command, receives a letter of her aunt Mary, long thought dead, who asks her to come and visit because there's something she must tell her. The message is that there is someone plotting against all Boleyns, and especially against Elizabeth, and planning their deaths.

First of all the action supposedly takes place in 1558 when Elizabeth is about 25 years old but from the descriptions I would say she sounded more like a teenager to me, someone young, a bit adventurous... definitely not a 25 year old. It might be that my idea of Elizabeth is more of a majestic figure, aware of her possible power but difficult position while her sister is alive. So this part might definitely be my problem with imagining real people as sleuths (at least so far I haven't found one that I liked.

Then the mystery plot, the fact is that we are told that there is some mysterious figure making attempts on the Boleyn's lives but I thought the whole lot of secondary characters was more interesting than the villain. I was never all that curious to find out what was really going on and that was a good thing because when the whole truth is revealed I felt the motive was a bit weak. The whole book is plot driven so we don't really get to know the characters all that well, they are too busy running around detecting - I suppose we may know more in future books - and we don't have a real sense of the period for the same reason.

I think I would probably have enjoyed it more if it was just a light mystery with some fictional character as the main detective. As it was I was constantly thinking whether Elizabeth I would actually behave that way or not... of course if you don't have a problem believing in historical figures as detectives you'll probably enjoy it more than I did.

Grade: 3.5/5


  1. I read the first three books in this series a few years ago. I would have read more but my library didn't have any more in the series. If you can get past having a queen having enough time to investigate murders then they were okay reads. I will be interested to see how you compare this one to Fiona Buckley's series.

  2. I loved the Fiona Buckley and I can't wait to pick up the next one ;-)

  3. Hmmm...I can also see how it would feel a bit forced, adding in all the elements to create a good mysetery in addition to/in spite of all the real-life events that were happening. Thanks for posting!

  4. Oh no! I am sorry to hear this one wasn't that great, as I just got it a little while ago off of Paperback Swap and was hoping it was an interesting read. I think I may have to bump it down on the list now. Thanks for the honest review. I really appreciate it!

  5. Thanks for the honest review. It does sound like this novel would've been better if the author hadn't taken on such an ambitious premise -- Queen Elizabeth as a detective.

  6. I wouldn't think QE would have time to be a dective, what with having to fend off possible suitors and trying to rule and all. Interesting premise but I'll pass.
    Try that Fiona Buckley series. You will not be disappointed.