Monday, 11 September 2000

Rebecca Jenkins: The Duke's Agent (1997)

Edition: Richard Cohen Books, 1997
Review number: 609

Like Anne Perry's Victorian novels, but not to the same exaggerated extent, The Duke's Agent presents something of the disreputable side of a historical period, in this case Georgian England. Here we have absentee landlords, dishonest magistrates, and the unpleasant tallyman, who was basically an unscrupulous debt collector who preyed on the poor.

When his steward there dies, the Duke of Penrith orders an audit into the estates he owns in the North East of England. He sends his remote kinsman Raif Jarrett, who soon discovers that something dishonest has been going on, though he cannot work out what as the account books have been stolen. A young woman is killed, and a fairly clumsy attempt is made to frame him for murder (though it is nearly good enough to make Jarrett the victim of a lynch mob). Thus he ends up trying to discover what happened to Sal Grundy as well as sorting out the Duke's affairs.

Basically a competent if not particularly complex detective story, The Duke's Agent has interesting characters and a well realised background. It is a pity that the publisher seems to feel that Rebecca Jenkins needs to be sold by mentioning her famous relatives - she is the daughter of that Bishop of Durham who notoriously denied the virgin birth of Christ - as The Duke's Agent is a strong enough novel to be allowed to stand on its own merits.

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