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Death Comes to the Village by Catherine Lloyd

I read about book 3 in this series, Death Comes to Kurland Hall, in the December 2015 issue of Romantic Times, which we’re recapping on the podcast. As I mentioned in Whatcha Reading, like a completely strange human being, I didn’t start with book three. I started with book one, Death Comes to the Village. This review will be mostly about that book, with some warnings about book two, Death Comes to London. 

A Very Important and Rather Annoying Thing: the entire EIGHT book series is available in audio pretty widely EXCEPT BOOK THREE?!

WHY? I have no idea.

Death Comes to Kurland Hall is an Audible-exclusive, which is absolutely bonkers to me. Why have the third book of an eight-book series exclusive to one platform? Anyway, if you’re listening to the series like I am, you can either use an Audible subscription (which I cancelled) or read book three (which is available in print, or digitally everywhere including Hoopla). As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been having a lot of trouble reading and audiobooks are a total win, so not being able to listen to the third book without paying for it is rather annoying.

(WHY would book 3 of 8 be limited while the others are widely available? How does that make sense? Anyway, I’m done ranting.)

(No, I’m not. WHY. WHYYYY! It’s a book from 2015! Let it go, let it go! Can’t hold the audiobook back anymore!)

The Review!

This is very much a Regency-set riff on Rear Window and for the most part it’s very fun, if a little anxiety inducing for me. Major Robert Kurland is recovering from multiple fractures to his leg sustained at Waterloo, and is mostly in bed. He’s grumpy, in pain, and is convinced he saw something very strange out his window in the middle of the night the one time he tried to move about on his own. Lucy, the rector’s daughter (and household drudge, poor thing) believes him, and is also concerned because one of the maids in her household has gone missing, so possibly their two mysteries are connected. Because she can investigate under the guise of doing rector’s-daughter things and looking for her housemaid, she reports back to Robert to discuss what he might have seen.

First, the not great: prepare ye for ableist language, especially regarding Robert’s injuries. Robert also has some clear indications of PTSD from the war.

In addition, I want to give some warnings for book two, in the event you pick up this series, too.

some details for book 2 ahoy

Book two introduces another character whose language for describing Robert’s injuries and mobility is truly appalling, though the other characters recognize it and name it as such. There is also some anti-fat bias, and (BIG SPOILER) homophobia, suicide, and cruelty to animals. So be ye aware.

Now the fun part: Lucy and Robert have known each other since they were children, and each occupies a slightly different but overlapping social status: Robert is the local landowner and magistrate, while Lucy is not only his childhood friend but served as his nurse alongside his valet and butler when he first returned very injured from Waterloo.

Lucy also has access above and below stairs in her community because of her social position as the daughter of the rector. She does remark upon it to herself in a way that’s a little too on-the-nose, but I do appreciate characters who move between social levels and are aware of the relative ease and unease of doing so. Lucy is in a perfect position to Get Really Nosy about why her maid is missing, why trinkets and small valuables are going missing from local houses, and what Robert may have seen from his window.

So there’s a shared history, the politics of small village life, and the class boundaries of the characters – and I love that kind of story, where the tension is as much from within the characters as it is from their limitations within their respective communities. Lucy in particular has to struggle with her own relative freedom that exists within very set boundaries: she’s an unmarried lady, but the daughter of a widowed rector, so she functions as de facto mother to her younger siblings (who are about to head off to boarding school) and housekeeper for her father (who has many flaws. Many.) She has, as she remarks at one point, all of the responsibilities with none of the authority.

Lucy and Robert have a very slow burn chemistry, and in book one are in opposite places in their lives: Robert is relieved to be recovering at his home, and missed the quiet of the village of St. Mary’s. He wants to be a responsible landowner, and is frustrated at the extent to which his recovery hampers his personal goals.

Meanwhile, Lucy has been stuck since her mother died, raising her siblings and running her father’s home, and now that the younger ones are headed to school, the possibility of leading her own life, possibly marrying, and no longer existing in service to her father is very tempting. The mysteries they’re each puzzling give Robert and Lucy a challenge to think about, one that serves to prod them into larger realizations about their respective positions in the village, and in their lives. They don’t see each other as a marriage prospect at all.

They also annoy the hell out of each other, which is also fun! Robert is very smart and pragmatic, but also sometimes pompous, sexist, and arrogant, while Lucy is tenacious, intelligent, and clever, which means they bicker and challenge each other’s thinking all the time. Robert is sometimes very sexist in his thinking about Lucy, and it’s quite a savory treat when he has to admit he was wrong about Lucy, and about Lucy’s theories.

The mystery did give me a bit of anxiety because I figured out who the culprit was before the characters did, and seeing that individual’s actions with the understanding that they were guilty made me turn up the speed on the audiobook so I could get to the part where Lucy and Robert figured it out, too.

What drew me to try this series out was the mention in the RT review written by Sandra Martin of the “complex relationship between Lucy and Major Kurland, who often argue.” I agree, it’s a complex relationship, and they often argue, and those were my favorite parts. With this being the first in a series, though, there is a fair amount of initial set up, some “world-building on-boarding” if you will, and the mystery doesn’t really get cracking until about midway through.

I liked Lucy immediately, however, and though I found Robert less engaging at the start, he grew in my estimation as the book went on. They’re both very pragmatic people, and I probably wouldn’t be as forgiving as Lucy for some of the nonsense that comes out of Robert’s mouth. I enjoyed Susannah Tyrrell’s narration tremendously, enough that as soon as book one finished, I started book two.  I’ll try to read book three, and see how far I get in the series after that, but I’m altogether very happy to have learned about this book through our RT magazine recaps.

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