By Olivier Bosman
Death Takes a Lover is a short piece that is far from keeping your interest peaked. Mr. Bosman does a fantastic job creating an atmosphere like one of those murder mystery dinners where there are only a handful of people who could have done it and now the problem is just figuring out who. And in the end, you wish you didn’t know the whole sordid affair to begin with. Some things are just left as they appear.
Death Takes a Lover brings Sergeant Detective Billings first to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in the late 1800’s to meet the accused, Gracie Brickenborough, “a simple creature” that has turned into quite the mess. He finds her in her cell cuddling her own excrement as if it was the thing to do. She is a 52-year-old woman who went to work for Mrs. Thornton 5 months prior as a maid after her mother passed. Billings gets nowhere with the visit.
Hammerock, the Thornton mansion, is definitely not what you’d envision as your typical mansion; set deep out in the moors secluded from much life other than those who help keep the place running. Billings is prepared to get to the bottom of what happened, but every person he encounters at Hammerock seems to have something to hide in reference to the death of its prince (so to speak) Master Roger Thornton. They’re quite the uncooperative lot.
Wilcox, the butler, is the first uncooperative person Billings meets. He not-so-politely advises Billings that the mistress of the house, Mrs. Thornton, is unavailable and he cannot tell him when he’ll be able to speak with her. So, he shows him to his not so accommodating quarters in the servant’s wing of the manor, which comes as quite a surprise to Billings who thought he’d be staying in the main quarters. His room is sparsely furnished but at this point he’ll settle for anything.
Billings is eager to get the questioning done so he can head back to Scotland Yard. He asks Wilcox when he can begin questioning the staff and is rebuffed quickly with excuses about how busy everyone else is. But, does it really matter? As the questioning begins, Billings learns quickly that something is amiss. Although it is beyond apparent that the entire staff adored and doted on Master Roger, they’re all hiding something. However, that does not stop them from each telling sleazy tales about the others as time permits for Billings to finally question them.
First he learns from Miss Whitfield that Master Roger died in the very room Billings is staying in. However, the official record with the township says that he died out on the moors with Gracie present. Immediately Miss Whitfield backtracks. The cook, Martha Pringle has much to say about what she and Gracie saw around the manor between Master Roger and both Miss Whitfield and Wilcox, details that might lead one of them to be guilty of killing him. The others speak of how Mrs. Pringle used to beat Gracie and treat her with disdain.
We learn that Master Roger had a gambling problem, spending many a night in the nearby taverns gambling away all his mother’s money. We learn Miss Whitfield, the adopted daughter of the Thornton’s often leant him money. Gracie was smitten with him as well. And suffice it to say that Wilcox may have been as well. At the end of the day, the whole place is a mess and while he is fighting his opium addiction it is Billings’ job to figure it all out. And the rest is for you to read and find out for yourself.
Death Takes a Lover is definitely a quick read. My only warnings are some adult sexual content – but very little – and some adult situations that may not be understood by younger readers. I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a short mystery read and enjoys a series because there are other books featuring Billings and his detective escapades. Although not my all-time favorite, definitely worth the read.