This is one of a series, a Sir Robert Carey mystery, set during the last years of Elizabeth 1st’s reign. This episode has the intrepid courtier and cousin to the Queen, Robert Carey, sent to the borderlands to take up the post of Deputy Warden. The new warden, Lord Scrope, also happens to be Carey’s insipid brother-in-law from whom Carey cannot expect any support as he attempts to tackle the corruption extant on the border between Scotland and England, but also solve a brutal murder before simmering clan conflicts erupt once more.
Mistaken for a dandy with no spine and who can be taken advantage of, Carey soon earns the grudging respect of most of the men in his command, especially the gruff Sergeant Dodd (a major character in his later adventures). But when Carey learns why so many horses are being thieved and determines to foil a dastardly plot, not even his wits and the loyalty of his men will be enough to save him.
Impeccably researched, filled with fabulous characters and a tight, fast-paced plot, A Famine of Horses evokes an era where violence was a solution and cause of so many problems; where women were property (and sometimes valued less than equines) and life was cheap. The writing is tight and lovely, the details of life in the late 1500s subtlety and beautifully revealed, from fabrics worn, food consumed, hygiene, wounds and weather, to even the fact that Londoners ‘drank’ tobacco smoke (as opposed to inhaling or smoking).
I seem to have read these books out of order for in many ways while this book feels like an introduction to Carey and his exploits, I don’t think it is. That didn’t and hasn’t spoilt anything for me and I am keen to read another. Terrific books from a wonderful writer who, I have discovered is Patricia Finney writing under a non de plume. Finney is the author of the sublime Firedrake’s Eye (which I will review shortly), Unicorn’s Blood (which also features Carey in a minor role) and Gloriana’s Torch etc. highly lauded works that also evoke the era and demonstrate her remarkable prose.