Four hundred and thirty years ago, in 1575, teenagers were not very different from todays youth. In Face Down Beside St. Annes Well, we encounter them cutting school, rebelling against authority, giggling over secrets, falling in love with teachers, and sneaking out for adventures like a midnight skinny-dip and May Day Eve revels. They are certainly ready for romance, in a day when they can be pre-contracted and even married in their early teens. Parents are as much concerned with advantageous marriages for their daughters as in Jane Austens time, a couple of centuries later. Susannas foster daughter Rosamond and her friends bring their times to enchanting life in the latest of Emersons highly praised series.
Other eye-opening, or perhaps eyebrow-lifting scenes depict bisexual alliances and the casual nude mixed bathing common at Renaissance-era spas. But spying and treason are the most significant matters to the Elizabethans. The wrong religion, the wrong marriage, the wrong friends... all may be considered seditious. By her very existence Mary Stewart, the imprisoned queen of Scots, provokes constant, innumerable plots and uprisings. Suspicion abounds, such that even the embroidery of a pattern with a thistle, lily, and rose is dangerous. That implies that Mary is queen of three realms: Scotland (which forced her abdication), France (where she was queen consort)and England (by her relationship to the Tudors). And suggesting that Mary has rights of royal succession is clearly traitorous, and possibly grounds for execution.
Jon L. Breen notes in Mystery Scene: Emerson offers a remarkable range of vivid and telling details, whether domestic, scientific, political, social, legal, or religious. She also manages to create dialogue that achieves a period sound without being stilted or unnatural.
Kathy Lynn Emerson has written nine Elizabethan mysteries, plus a collection of short stories, in her Lady Appleton series. She is also the author of two nonfiction books on the period, as well as another historical series, romances, and books for children and young adults. Emerson lives in Maine with her husband.
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