Mistress of Mourning
by Karen Harper
Review by Mel Jacob
NAL Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451236906
Date: 03 July 2012 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Varina Westcott, an independent artisan, living and working in London during the reign of Henry VII finds herself in the midst of political intrigue and murder when she agrees to help Queen Elizabeth. Murder pervades and Varina fears she may be next.
Harper relates the tale through Varina and Queen Elizabeth. Each occupies a world very different from the other. Varina owns and manages a chandlery in London. Another waxmaker is determined to marry the wealthy and beautiful widow and take over the business. Varina is not anxious to marry again, that is, until she meets the handsome Nick Sutton. However, courtiers don't marry merchants.
She carves angel candles to honor her dead son and to ease the mourning of women who have lost children. Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII, learns of the candles and seeks Varina's help in creating life-sized effigies of her deceased children and her two brothers, the princes of the Tower. Neither has any inkling this will lead to danger for them both and murder.
Guilt troubles her because she urged her mother to send her younger brother to join the one already in the Tower. Later, both boys disappear and are believed dead. Their disappearances cleared the way for Richard III to claim the throne, and later for Henry VII to do the same. To ease her guilt, she asks Varina to create the effigies.
Haunted by the death of her brothers, the Queen wants their killers found. Then, someone kills the artist who painted the wax figures, and threatens Varina. Later, when Prince Arthur dies in Wales, the Queen suspects foul play and sends Varina to ensure the body is properly wrapped for burial, to observe the funeral, and report to her. She also instructs Varina and Nick to discover how the prince died and whether some enemy had caused his death.
Harper, noted for her historical novels, has a series of mysteries featuring Queen Elizabeth, granddaughter of Henry VII. An excellent writer with an amazing list of books, she is meticulous in her research. The story of two women mourning lost children and Varina’s efforts to find the killer of Prince Arthur will carry most readers along. Only a few will question Varina's role and her unwillingness to accept the strictures placed upon her by society.