Title: Death Be My Theme
Year published: 2000
Number in series: 3
Availability: In print
Settings and time: England: Chelsea (mostly) and surrounding country, London (a little), 1764.
Type of mystery: Murder (whodunit), historical (Georgian era England)
Type of investigator: Amateur sleuth/crime magnet
Some themes: Murder, music, obsession, love, false identity, forgery
Summary (no spoilers):
In the summer of 1764, private tutor Robert Fairfax has been sent by his employers to Chelsea, then a rural health spot, to recuperate from a serious illness. He discovers that a woman he is very much in love with (I assume he met her in one of the two previous books), is staying there as well, in the same house as the Mozart family. Herr Mozart is recovering from an illness, and when little Wolfgang claims to have seen a man coming out of a room in an inn moments after the man staying there had a stroke and died, and the dead man’s wife denies the existence of any such man, Fairfax becomes suspicious. When an unemployed housemaid is found murdered, the local magistrate (upon discovering Fairfax has helped Justice Fielding solve a case) hands the investigation over to him. He begins to sniff around, and finds a twisted tale of love and obsession simmering under the seemingly placid surface of the peaceful suburb. (I’m not sure whether Chelsea had become part of London by then – in the book it seems to be a suburb rather than a town).
Review: With interesting twists and red herrings aplenty, the mystery part is good. The Mozarts are shown as typical jolly Germanic stereotypes and could easily have been left out. Sometimes, even if an author can include someone who really existed, it is better not to if they can not be used in an interesting way. Here they merely lend colour.
Unfortunately Robert Fairfax is a rather uninteresting character. Maybe it’s because all the interesting things about him have been said in the previous two books in the series, in which case it is presumptuous of the author to assume that the reader will have read them. As it is, there is nothing in his character that would induce me to want to read more about him.
One minor character sort of gets lost – his thread in the story is not resolved, and neither is Fairfax’s love for a married woman. This being a series, both story threads could (I suppose) be resolved in later books, but the lack of resolution still nags me.
Not an author I would particularly seek out more books by, but neither would I refuse to read another one.
Rating: 3 stars (i.e. not good, but not bad either)