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by Fiona Buckley

Scribners, (HC) December, 2000

Reviewed by J. Ashley

Buckley's Elizabethan series gets better with each book. TO RUIN A QUEEN is a good read, fast-paced, but without sacrificing character development or Buckley's usual fine period setting.

Ursula Blanchard, now living in France with her husband, is summoned back to England by Elizabeth and Sir Robert Cecil to look into a delicate matter. One Sir Philip Mortimer is rumored to have some leverage over Elizabeth, which he will use to procure lands that once belonged to the Mortimer family. Elizabeth sends Ursula and her trusted servants Brockley and Dale to Vetch castle, in Wales, to investigate.

Ursula finds herself in the midst of a bizarre family in a bizarre setting--the castle has been modernized, but still retains the atmosphere of its dark past and includes a haunted tower. The family--Sir Philip and his mother and their retainers--lives an oddly formal, yet oddly barbaric, existence.

When a body is found in Sir Philip's study, Ursula and her servants are accused of the murder. They must discover both the true murderer's identity and what hold Philip has over Elizabeth, plus fight deadly weather in the Welsh mountains.

What begins as a standard country-house mystery twists and turns and leaves the stock murder plot behind. Ursula must find answers and at the same time fight her own uncertainties. She is angry at Elizabeth's ruthlessness, and she misses her husband in France, yet she feels the pull of loyalty to England.

While the murder solution was a little predictable, there was enough going on to compensate. Buckley writes readable stories with enjoyable characters, set against a superbly drawn period setting. She develops Ursula further with each book, showing her grow and change.

This series is one of my favorites. The first three books are TO SHIELD THE QUEEN, THE DOUBLET AFFAIR, and A QUEEN'S RANSOM.

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