A Portrait of Death by Rhen Garland – An historical mystery with well realised characters and more


Mysteries, messy murder and treachery abound in this deft combination of murder mystery and adventure. Set in a country house, a weekend party provides the background for an investigation into an international crisis through events in the establishment of a Lord Marmis in 1899.Two murders are described in a Prologue that spares little in detail of setting, yet are not at first sight linked to the events of the major part of the book. This is not just a standard murder mystery of a historical nature, and this is apparently the first book in “The Versipellis Mysteries” series. In this book the mysterious Detective Chief Inspector Elliot Caine and his associate Detective Sergeant Thorne are introduced, though they evidently have a mysterious past which is carefully guarded. So many characters appear quickly that it is at first a little puzzling as to who is which, and who will be significant. When this settles and the relationships are established, I soon got into the swing of this intense and well written novel. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


Whatever happens in the novel, and there is certainly a lot of dramatic events in a very short time, each point is tied up carefully and satisfactorily, though not without many surprises, twists and turns. There are quite brutal murders, but we are not given gratuitous details, though many details are implied.  As the book opens we encounter Lord Foster Marmis and a fellow cabinet member having a serious discussion over maps and papers, a discussion which is to be the basis of a later meeting with two other men who will soon arrive. Unfortunately the odious and ill intentioned butler, Gregory, is eager to overhear what is being said, and he is greatly offended when more people appear at the door. Whatever else Gregory is, he is soon shown to be an attacker of women, deeply dangerous and offensive to all the servants, both resident and visiting. As members of the house party assemble and indulge their taste for cards, drink and other amusements, it seems that this will settle into a standard murder mystery. However, as two deaths occur, it becomes obvious that this is no cosy mystery with a standard guilty party. Much is quickly revealed about the victims, and it quickly appears that there is more to it than the standard motives of money or jealousy.


The introduction of Elliott and Thorne adds a whole new dimension to the novel, as they bring their quick wits and excellent analysis of character to the shocked household. They bring an element of comedy to the proceedings and a level of logic and understanding to what needs to be done. Under their influence they discover the secrets of the landlady, after a satisfactory incident involving the odious High Constable Rigsby – Boothe and a dubious substance. There are some characters who reveal their true colours, and this is one of the most attractive things about this well written book. 


This book is an excellent novel which really drew me in, and was a great reading experience. There are all sorts of things to enjoy, and was extremely well researched as demonstrated so well in the gradual revelation of all aspects of a grand Victorian house. There are some suggestions of the supernatural within this books which were perhaps less expected, but certainly this is something which has become an element in other historical mysteries that I have encountered. I recommend this book for all fans of historical mysteries as an enjoyable read with extra elements.   


Life is getting busy at the Vicarage for Christmas! Yesterday was a nativity family service with added stories, while Saturday was a Christmas Coffee morning with carols – as well as a concert in the evening at a Christmas tree festival. Still to come are lunches, carol services and much else, amid a huge pile of cards to sort out- The joys of moving house ten times leaves a huge list of friends!