One of Publishers Weekly’s Top Ten Fall Mysteries
Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Summer Reading List
One of The Washington Post’s Five New Thrillers & Mysteries for the Beach
One of Amazon’s Best of the Month
One of Christian Science Monitor’s Ten Best Books of the Month
One of LitHub’s Five Books You May Have Missed This Month
From the author of the acclaimed Li Du novels comes Elsa Hart's new atmospheric mystery series.
London, 1703. In a time when the old approaches to science coexist with the new, one elite community attempts to understand the world by collecting its wonders. Sir Barnaby Mayne, the most formidable of these collectors, has devoted his life to filling his cabinets. While the curious-minded vie for invitations to study the rare stones, bones, books, and artifacts he has amassed, some visitors come with a darker purpose.
For Cecily Kay, it is a passion for plants that brings her to the Mayne house. The only puzzle she expects to encounter is how to locate the specimens she needs within Sir Barnaby’s crowded cabinets. But when her host is stabbed to death, Cecily finds the confession of the supposed killer unconvincing. She pays attention to details—years of practice have taught her that the smallest particulars can distinguish a harmless herb from a deadly one—and in the case of Sir Barnaby’s murder, there are too many inconsistencies for her to ignore.
To discover the truth, Cecily must enter the world of the collectors, a realm where intellect is distorted by obsession and greed. As her pursuit of answers brings her closer to a killer, she risks being given a final resting place amid the bones that wait, silent and still, in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.
Hart (City of Ink and two other mysteries featuring 18th-century Chinese librarian Li Du) establishes herself as a versatile talent with this exceptional standalone set in 1703 London. Botanist Cecily Kay has left her diplomat husband behind in Smyrna to spend time in the home of Sir Barnaby Mayne, a legendary collector, who believes his holdings "contain no less than the future course of all knowledge toward the secrets God left for man to discover." Kay hopes to use Mayne's collection of plants to help her classify the flora she collected in Smyrna. She's delighted to find that Mayne's other guests include a childhood friend, Meacan Barlow, an artist who's been retained to illustrate a new catalogue of the nobleman's possessions. Both women's plans are disrupted when Mayne is found stabbed to death in his study, with the bloody knife in the hands of another member of the household, who confesses to the murder before fleeing. The astute Kay doubts the confession's truthfulness, but her pursuit of answers puts her in danger. The author has a gift for vivid similes (randomly displayed objects are "like guests at a poorly planned party who cannot find a common topic of conversation"). Hart is bound to become a household name for readers who love clever and fair whodunits.