Death Comes to the Village marks the debut of the stellar new Kurland St. Mary mystery series, as author Catherine Lloyd offers readers an authentic picture of rural village life in 1816 England, lacing it with a plausible mystery and characters that catch the fancy.
From the get-go, Lloyd presents a depressing picture of the prescribed roles for women in the Regency period. Almost totally dependent on men for their status and livelihood, they’re expected to marry as well as their place in the social hierarchy allows, to raise a family and to stay mainly interested in local gossip, fashion and socials.
However, the author provides just a hint of hope that times may be a-changin’, if only for the book’s heroine. Lucy Harrington bears the extra burden of being the rector’s daughter; she must visit the poor and sickly, maintain an appearance of rectitude, smother her own opinions and refrain from punching the pasty-faced curate who seems to fancy her. As the eldest daughter of a widowed father, it seems she’ll never escape her bonds of responsibility to a self-absorbed father who treats her like a glorified servant.
But Lucy doesn’t quite fit the traditional mold. Somewhere along the line she’s inherited a spine, and she longs to gain her independence, unlikely as that appears at the moment. Good for her—and for us as readers.
Enter Major Robert Kurland (we learn early on that he has a “dashing” appearance), wounded at Waterloo and still largely bedridden. He’s one of the “visitees” on Lucy’s do-good list, and the two slowly begin to uncover a sinister layer beneath the tranquil surface of village life. The Major witnesses a suspicious figure passing outside his window one moonlit night, and his suspicions dovetail with those of Lucy, who is concerned about the mysterious disappearance of two village servant girls, one from Lucy’s own household. Soon the two are swapping clues and theories.
The Major’s quick tongue and quicker temper ignite Lucy’s naturally questioning attitude and penchant for adventure, and the stage is set for some sparks—albeit of a toned-down Regency nature—as their unlikely romance begins to take shape. A nicely drawn supporting cast, including a pouting fiancé, a yucky curate, a selfish father and a dangerous town drunk, fills out the pages of this well-drawn, grown-up cozy and sets the stage for future series entries with these colorful characters.