By Kate Ross
So, I’ve been having a bit of a rough time over the last couple of weeks with some family medical issues, and as usual, I’ve turned to my main comfort, rereading old favorites. There is nothing quite so comforting as reading a book where you already know everything that happens, so you can give it as much or as little attention as you have to spare at any given time (highly recommended for waiting room waits). You already know the outcome, so there is no anxiety (you probably have enough of that in your actual life already).
All of this to say that I’ve just reread Cut to the Quick and A Broken Vessel, the first two in Kate Ross’ Julian Kestrel mystery series, and they were exactly right for my current mood. The protagonist, Julian Kestrel, is the epitome of a dandy in Regency-era London, focused entirely on his appearance and amusements until he is framed for the murder of a strange woman who appears at the country house in which he is attending the engagement party of a slight acquaintance. In order to clear himself and his valet, an extremely endearing former pickpocket named Dipper, he must uncover the true murderer among his host’s upper-crust family. The plot and characters of Cut to the Quick aren’t anything new in the extremely well-covered genre of Regency-era mysteries, but they are all just so well written that the book and the series really stands out.
Now, A Broken Vessel is another matter entirely, introducing Dipper’s sister Sally, who shares narration of the book with Julian. Sally is clever, courageous, and a completely unrepentant prostitute, who has stolen a letter pleading for help from one of three men. Sally is wonderful, the mystery is even more intriguing than in Cut to the Quick, but the most interesting thing for me in A Broken Vessel is how it describes the various levels of society in Regency London, with the aristocracy at top, to their servants, to the shop and pub keepers, and finally to the dregs of the crime world, and how people either fall down those layers or claw their way up.
The series contains two additional books, which I read years ago, and haven’t reread yet, though I remember them both as being quite good as well. Our mother first introduced Rebecca and me to the series, and she had a theory on where Ross was taking Kestrel’s character, and we were eagerly awaiting to see if this proved true when unfortunately Ross died, and so no more books in the series will be forthcoming. This shouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading these, though: each book stands alone, plot-wise, though they occasionally refer back to previously introduced characters, and no book ends on a cliff-hanger. You’ll just be sad that there aren’t additional books to enjoy, but you can always just reread these four in times of need.