Lucy Campion, a ladies’ maid turned printer’s apprentice in 17th-century London, is crossing Holborn Bridge over the murky waters of the River Fleet one morning when, out of the mist, she sees a specter moving toward her. Frightened at first, Lucy soon realizes the otherworldly figure is in fact a young woman, clearly distraught and clad only in a blood-spattered white nightdress. Barely able to speak, the woman has no memory of who she is or what’s happened to her. The townspeople believe she’s possessed. But Lucy is concerned for the woman’s well-being and takes her to see a physician. When, shockingly, the woman is identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while she remains under the physician’s care.
As the woman slowly recovers, she begins—with Lucy’s help—to reconstruct the terrible events that led her to Holborn Bridge that morning. But when it becomes clear the woman’s safety might still be at risk, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications, and she’ll have to decide just how far she’s willing to go to protect the young woman in her care.
Susanna Calkins has drawn a richly detailed portrait of a time in history and a young woman struggling against the bounds of her society in her next absorbing Lucy Campion mystery.
At the start of Calkins's sluggish fourth mystery set in 1660s London (after 2015's The Masque of a Murderer), printer's apprentice Lucy Campion encounters a bruised, bloodstained, and incoherent woman on a bridge while crossing the Fleet River. She brings the stranger to the home of her friend Dr. Larimer, who notices rope marks and signs of medical bloodletting before diagnosing hysteria and traumatic amnesia. After the doctor arranges for Lucy to care for the patient in his home, she's revealed to be Octavia Belasysse, an epileptic noblewoman believed dead by her dysfunctional family. When Octavia's brother turns up missing and a murdered corpse is found near where she was wandering, Constable Jeb Duncan, Lucy's beau, suspects that the noblewoman may be criminal as well as victim. Calkins deftly evokes period attitudes toward mental illness, but with a pivotal character too impaired to generate much suspense or action, the first half of the story doesn't do justice to Lucy's resourcefulness or the author's full gifts.