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Felicity's Gate: A Rounder Brothers Mystery by Julian Cole
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312585921
Date: 10 May 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Publisher's Author Page / Show Official Info /

Jane F. Wragge, a Yorkshire garden artist, is found lying dead at the bottom of her staircase, her skull bashed in with a glass juicer. Her latest lover, Moses Mundy, a former hit man for south London thugs, is the prime suspect. Moses contacts PI Rick Rounder, beseeching him to locate the true killer. Meanwhile, Rick's older brother, Detective Chief Inspector Sam Rounder, is investigating Jane's murder. He stumbles upon her diary which provides a window into her private life, specifically that pertaining to her five lovers. The Rounder brothers must work diligently to find Jane's killer before more innocent girls die.

Julian Cole's highly absorbing Felicity's Gate is a clever combination of British noir and old-fashioned whodunit. I found it even more intriguing than Cole's debut mystery, The Amateur Historian, which also featured the Rounder brothers. A definite page turner, Felicity's Gate is actually two stories, each one dealing with a Rounder brother who is investigating the same brutal murder, but from a different angle. Rick Rounder, the athletic brother, handles the leg work; he nearly loses his life when traveling to south London to delve deep into Moses' criminal past. Sam, the fatter, rounder brother (the brunt of many comical fat jokes), handles the forensic data of the crime scene and secretly reads Jane's diary, causing him to nearly fall in love with her.

Keeping secrets seems to be a running theme throughout Felicity's Gate. Not just the serial killer but everyone is guilty of this practice, especially those who are involved in adulterous relationships. The Rounder brothers keep secrets from each other and their loved ones. Change is another recurrent theme, especially changes wrought by time on one's body, one's sex life, and one's relationships with those he/she once loved or are trying to love again. The diary and the paintings have allowed their creator to capture the past, because they never change. Amongst all this change is York's most historical landmark, the Gothic cathedral York Minster, which has survived nearly unchanged despite wars, fires and corrosion.

Speaking of changes, Sam Rounder is trying to change. He is dieting and exercising and attempting to amend his broken marriage. He buys his wife Michelle flowers; unfortunately, he gets slightly drunk while walking home and damages them. However, they are communicating more with each other despite the fact that Sam is having an affair with the dead Jane via her diary. While Sam's marriage is on the mend, Rick's relationship with his girlfriend Naomi is disintegrating. They are growing further apart as he spends more time spying on other couples whose relationships are falling apart. How ironic is that?

Felicity's Gate is not intended for juvenile readers because of its preoccupation with sex. (I wouldn't want my teenage nephews reading it.) Jane painted nude portraits of all her boyfriends; her diary describes having sex with them. One major character, Bill Inchcliffe, appears to love his wife but is addicted to having adulterous relationships. Bill's wife Miranda hires Rick Rounder to spy on her husband and his young secretary, Catherine Whiting. Everyone seems unnaturally obsessed with sex. When Rick is in south London, Cole describes the towers of Canary Wharf as phallic symbols: "The towers of Canary Wharf pointed to the sky with what might almost be taken for sexual boasting." Was this description really necessary?

Rich with symbolism, artistry and beauty, Felicity's Gate is a spellbinding mystery that is part crime noir, part serial killer thriller, part whodunit and part police procedural. Highly recommended, it is pure entertainment for all mystery fans. It is a departure from The Amateur Historian, which was primarily an historical mystery. One can't help but wonder what the next Rounder Brothers mystery will contain. Perhaps this novel will venture into the realm of the supernatural. I do hope that Sam will lose more weight and be able to fix his broken marriage; I feel confident that Rick and Naomi will remain together forever. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading the next installment in this intriguing Yorkshire mystery series.

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