The Heiress of Linn Hagh (The Inspector Lavender Mysteries), by Karen Charlton
One of the problems with being a fan of history is the irritation when an author abuses it. This is a fair mystery with some odd anachronisms.
Before their was a Scotland Yard Henry Fielding (the magistrate who wrote Shamela and The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling) developed a police force at Bow Street in London. The force was a mix of state funded policing, all private before that time, with volunteer officers who worked on a reward system or were allowed to charge a fee for services.. They came to be known as the Bow Street Runners or Thief-Takers. Founded around 1750, by the turn of the century they often went off to areas outside of London because of their expertise.
This book is set in 1809. Inspector Lavender of this first book in a series is the son of a wealthy family who cut short a career at the bar to follow his fascination with crime. He is followed and assisted by Constable Woods. They are Bow Street Runners, though it’s made to seem more like the newer Scotland Yard in this book.
They are called to a small village where a young woman has disappeared from a locked room. The young woman was near the age of being able to inherit a fortune. Her door was locked from the inside when she went to bed and had to be broken down the next day when she didn’t respond. Lavender arrives to look into this unusual event, which many of the locals chalk up to either some kind of witchcraft or perhaps the influence of gypsies who have settled nearby.
Lavender, who is regularly referred to as “Detective Lavender” despite the fact that the word didn’t enter English usage until after 1850, investigates after notice of a £100 reward is posted. They learn that the missing woman, Helen, is the youngest child of Baxter Carnaby. Three older siblings from a different mother, including an apparent mute with mental disabilities, have been passed over for the inheritance. The older brother and sister manage the property and provide an allowance to Helen until she comes into her £10,000 inheritance.
Lavender and Woods come up against this odd family when they arrive to investigate the disappearance. This later becomes more serious when a woman’s burned body is found.
There are a few broad clues, but the general mystery is easy to follow with a surprise villain at the end. If not for the historical inaccuracies (things that could be easily picked up in some research) this could have been an interesting mystery. But for me those really stood in the way of the book. It might have improved considerably if the author had set it in a time period for which she had a better grasp.