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DEATH OF A COLONIAL
By Bruce Alexander

Putnam, 1999
Berkley Prime Crime (paperback), 2000

Reviewed by Jennifer Ashley

This installment of the Sir John Fielding mystery series begins with the blind Sir John ruminating on cases that have gone unresolved. He draws to the attention of his young assistant, Jeremy, a case involving a colonial who had been found dead in a London inn eight years before. Sir John had suspected the man's traveling companion, a large, brutish man, of murdering him, but with no evidence, the case had died.

But unresolved cases are put away in favor of something new-Sir John has been asked to sit on a commission to examine the claim of a young man who purports to be the long-lost brother and heir of the now dead Earl of Laningham.

The commission asks Sir John to watch the claimant's movements and verify that he is indeed the brother of the previous earl. The task takes Sir John, Jeremy, Sir John's wife, and Clarissa, a young girl the Fieldings have taken in, to Bath and the nearby Laningham estate. In Bath, Sir John interviews the mother of the supposed claimant, who has declared the young man to be her son.

But Sir John sews doubts in the old woman's head, and soon thereafter, she is found dead. Later, Sir John hears the voice of a man he remembers from the past, and learns that this man is also the claimant's constant companion.

The inquiry takes Sir John and Jeremy back to London, and then to Oxford, where danger overtakes Jeremy, and where Sir John at last satisfies himself as to the claimant's true identity, the role the claimant's companion plays in the adventure, and what ties this case to the previously unsolved death of the colonial.

The story is told in the point of view of young Jeremy, a boy who is Sir John's “eyes.” Jeremy reads to Sir John and takes dictation, escorts him, and describes crime scenes to him. Jeremy is energetic and likable, and the reader receives an interesting portrait of Sir John Fielding, who, with his brother, Henry Fielding, was responsible for establishing the Bow Street Runners (an early incarnation of the London police force) in the eighteenth century.

Generally, I don't enjoy novels with historical figures as the main characters (who do and say things that the original person never did or said). But Alexander has researched so well, and he brings forth such an interesting incarnation of Sir John Fielding, that I was won over.

History buffs and historical novel lovers will find this series interesting. This is the sixth book in the series; however, it can be read as a stand alone story. The first book in the series is BLIND JUSTICE.


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