I don’t know how the Lake District got its image as an idyllic rural paradise when murders like the ones in the Lake District mysteries by Martin Edwards seem to happen so often. The Frozen Shroud is an atmospheric novel about murder past & present, jealousy & overwhelming love. It’s also an opportunity to catch up with historian Daniel Kind & cold case detective Hannah Scarlett, one of my favourite detective teams.
Ravenbank Hall is a house in a remote part of the Lake District that has been the scene of more than one tragedy. Over one hundred years ago, at Halloween, housemaid Gertrude Smith was found dead, her face brutally obliterated & covered in a woollen cloth. Gertrude had been having an affair with the master of the house, Mr Hodgkinson, & she was pregnant. The day after Gertrude’s body was found, the mistress of the house, a woman in a fragile mental state, killed herself. The inference was that Letitia Hodgkinson had murdered Gertrude in a jealous fit & then couldn’t live with what she’d done. Clifford Hodgkinson had had grand plans for his estate but, after Gertrude’s murder & the scandal of his wife’s suicide, it all came to nothing. He died not many years later & his daughter, Dorothy, became a philanthropist. Gertrude’s ghost, her face hidden by a frozen shroud, is said to walk the lanes of Ravenbank on Halloween in despair that her murderer was never brought to justice.
Five years before the main action of the novel begins, Ravenbank Hall is once again a private home, after many years as a care home after WWI. Clifford Palladino lives there, a lonely man since his wife’s death. Or, he was lonely until Sheenagh Moss came into his life. A brash Australian, Sheenagh has become the centre of Clifford’s life & he plans to marry her. Until, on Halloween, Sheenagh goes out to walk the dog & doesn’t return. Clifford stumbles on her body, her face beaten into blankness & covered by a shroud.
Five years have passed since Sheenagh’s death. Clifford never recovered & died soon after. Ravenbank Hall is now owned by event organisers Oz & Melody Knight. Daniel Kind has been a guest speaker at a conference organised by the Knights, speaking about his research on Thomas De Quincey. Daniel is fascinated by the history of murder & soon hears about the legend of the Frozen Shroud & the murders of Gertrude Smith & Sheenagh Moss. Sheenagh’s killer was presumed to be Craig Meek, a former boyfriend who couldn’t or wouldn’t let go. He was seen in the area on the night of her murder but was killed in a car crash before he could be brought to justice. So, two murders almost one hundred years apart. Two young women murdered in the same way & neither killer brought to trial. Daniel’s curiosity is aroused & he begins researching both cases, especially when he learns that one of the detectives investigating Sheenagh’s death didn’t believe that Craig Meek was guilty.
Daniel is invited to a Halloween party at Ravenbank Hall with his sister, Louise. Among the other guests are Jeffrey Burgoyne & Alex Quinlan, partners in life as well as in a theatrical company; Miriam Park, who had been housekeeper at Ravenbank Hall for the Palladinos & Terri Poynton, a close friend of Hannah Scarlett, who is now going out with Miriam’s son, Robin.The party guests go on a ghost hunt, hoping that Gertrude’s ghost will appear, but they’re disappointed. However, when the body of another young woman, murdered in the same way as Gertrude & Sheenagh, is discovered next morning, the search for her killer will lead to the reopening of Sheenagh’s case &, ultimately, to the truth behind the murder of Gertrude Smith as well.
This is a fantastic mystery series. Fast-paced & very readable, I always devour Martin Edwards’ books in big gulps, unable to put them down. The sinister atmosphere of remote Ravensbank is beautifully conveyed through the biting cold weather & an atmosphere of dread that affects all the inhabitants of the small community. Daniel’s research inevitably steps on some toes as everyone has something to hide although not necessarily about the murders. Daniel himself is an immensely likeable character, who loves his work & is relentless when he gets a lead on a mystery. I enjoyed the details of Daniel’s research into Gertrude’s murder & the breakthrough he needs comes from a dusty archive where he can finally put the pieces together.
Hannah Scarlett has more than enough problems to cope with. Her Cold Case team is threatened by budget cuts; her ex-partner, Marc Amos, is reluctant to believe that their relationship is over; & she’s attracted to one of her team, Greg Wharf, a smooth talker who is pursuing her even though she knows what a disaster a relationship with a colleague would be. Hannah & Daniel’s relationship has barely moved on from friendship although the sparks are definitely there. When they’re brought together again in the search for a murderer, will Hannah be able to disentangle herself from Marc & Greg & find some space in her life for a relationship with Daniel? Speculating about when or if Daniel & Hannah are going to get together is one of the many pleasures of the Lake District series.
I read The Frozen Shroud courtesy of NetGalley.