The Service of the Dead (Kate Clifford #1) by Candace Robb

This is the first volume in a new series, set in the time of Richard II, right before Henry of Bolingbroke returns to take the throne as Henry IV. I have read one other Candace Robb book, which was published under the pen name Emma Campion: A Triple Knot,  previously reviewed here.

The Service of the Dead Front Cover (Pegasus/W.W. Norton & Company)

The Service of the Dead Front Cover (Pegasus/W.W. Norton & Company)

THE PLOT: Kate Clifford is a young widow in York during the reign of Richard II, but there are rumblings that John of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, is going to challenge his cousin for the throne. Kate struggles to maintain her independence from her dead husband’s brother and her own cousin while raising her husband’s illegitimate children as her wards. To offset her husband’s debts, she runs a boardinghouse that allows various lovers to meet discreetly. When a shocking murder takes place there, Kate is thrown into the middle of danger. Then two more murders take placeone in a method that is horrifyingly reminiscent of a period in Kate’s past. She becomes more certain that she is the ultimate target. But what is the motive…a long-ago family feud, or the current political climate?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that the time period is awesome. I think it’s fairly unusual to find novels set as Henry IV was about to usurp the throne; and doesn’t even take place in London! The author paints a vivid picture of York in 1399.

Second, there are a LOT of characters. I know this is done because A) the author is setting up a whole series, and B) it’s a murder mystery so we need a large cast for a believable whodunnit, But it wasn’t all that easy to follow. I have an especially hard time with names that are unfamiliar to me (a definite disadvantage when reading Star Wars books!) So it took me a while to sort out Griselde, Clement, Jennet, and Berend (all of whom are servants). Matt and Sam and Phillip and Marie were a lot easier to follow! I may reread at least the first few chapters now that I’m done; I think I’d enjoy it more on a second read.

As for the mystery itself: there are many twists and turns, and it’s also a bit challenging to follow all the threads. I’m sure many of the suspects who were cleared of this particular crime will still show up as suspects or perpetrators in the next books.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read set in a less-popular setting. Fans of Tudor and Wars of the Roses fiction should enjoy it. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series. I may even check out the audio version at some point.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 3, 2016, in hardcover, e-formats, and audio.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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