One of my favourite mystery series has been Veronica Stallwood’s Oxford series. I finally caught up with the news that the final book in the series was published as an ebook a couple of years ago & it was lovely to catch up with sleuth Kate Ivory one last time.
Kate Ivory is a writer of historical romances. She’s working on her breakthrough book (or so she hopes) & everything, including her relationship with Jon Kenrick, has been put on hold until she finishes the book. The story begins with the wedding of Kate’s agent, Estelle Livingstone. Estelle is marrying Peter Hume, a secondhand book dealer, & the wedding is a traditional affair, organised with Estelle’s usual flair. At the reception, Kate & Jon are seated with Adela Carston, an old lady who is an old friend of Estelle’s father & booksellers Frances & Ben Akin, siblings who have inherited the family business. Adela is a bit scatty but she was married to Victor, a notable although secretive book collector. When he died, his collection was stored in the basement & no one has ever been able to get a look at the catalogue. As Adela lives in an old house & has dozens of cats, the condition of the books could be doubtful but the Akins as well as Peter Hume, are definitely interested. Kate also meets Adela’s grandson, Austin Brande, a property developer as well as Peter Hume’s brother, Myles & his wife, Cathy. Myles is a lawyer but permanently strapped for cash, relying on Peter to bail him out all too often.
Some time after the wedding, Kate sends her latest work in progress to Estelle & is surprised when she doesn’t hear from her as promised. Estelle runs her business as she runs her life – organised & formidably efficient. Kate becomes concerned about Estelle’s silence & goes to London to try to find out what’s happening. She finds Peter drunk & uncommunicative & the office deserted. Estelle had left home after a row & hasn’t returned. Kate concludes that Estelle has been abducted but is puzzled as to why Peter won’t go to the police. Peter’s business is in trouble & his brother is pressing for a loan. When he receives a letter from Adela Carston asking him to look over her husband’s library, he can’t get there fast enough. Peter seems pleased with the deal he struck with Adele but then he receives messages from someone else accusing him of dishonesty. There are also persistent phone calls to Estelle’s home & office from would-be authors demanding that Estelle read their manuscripts. Could Estelle’s abduction be aimed at Peter? Or is there a demented author who doesn’t take Estelle’s brisk rejection kindly?
Kate is incorrigibly nosy & she is determined to find out what has happened to Estelle, even more so when she realises that Peter is doing nothing about it at all. Does he have a guilty conscience or is he being threatened by someone? She is also anxious to get Estelle’s verdict on her new book & can’t settle down to work without her advice. Jon doesn’t approve of her investigations but when a friend of his, Craig Jefferson, comes to stay, he uses his skills as a criminologist to help Kate in her search. Their search leads them to Kate’s friend, Emma, once an old flame of Peter’s, & a cafe, the Writer’s Bistro, where aspiring writers can go to write, network & find distraction. Kate becomes more & more concerned as time passes with no word from Estelle & her investigations could lead to serious consequences for them both.
Oxford Ransom is a fitting end to an excellent series. The Oxford setting has always been one of the main attractions in the series. In one of the earlier books, Kate worked at the Bodleian & other Oxford landmarks have featured as well. Kate’s nosiness has led her into many precarious situations over the years & her freelance working life has meant that she could sleuth to her heart’s content. Kate’s mother, Roz, makes only a token appearance in this novel, a little older & a little more dependent on her daughter which is quite a contrast from her bohemian lifestyle in earlier books. Everyone is a little older & maybe, at the end of the book, Kate is ready to start thinking about settling down herself. As soon as the latest book is finished, of course.