Just what were they up to in that not-so-secret secret society?
Rotten to the Core is the second book I’ve read in TE Kinsey’s Lady Hardcastle series, and I enjoyed it quite as much as I did the previous one. (See my review of The Fatal Flying Affair here.) At first, I was a little worried, because I was so much in love with the early, pre-WWI, aviation background of Affair, and I was concerned that without that setting, I might not like Rotten as much. But I actually found that not being distracted by a background that I knew a lot about let me focus a bit more on the story itself. And I really liked the story in Rotten.
As the book opens, Claud Cridland has been found dead in the apple orchard. He’s a member of a (semi) secret society, the Weryers of the Pomary, which appears to have some hazy and dark origins – not least of which is their name! But the group is now generally seen more as a chance for some worthy locals (and, possibly, some not-so-worthy ones as well) to hang out and drink a bit more cider than they should, while ostensibly providing support for charities in the region. And to be fair to the Weryers, it seems they really do do some good works, but readers can decide for themselves which is likely to be the true motivating factor…:-)
Like many service organizations, however, the Weryers have some fissures and cracks, and it becomes the job of Lady Hardcastle and Flo to figure out what really is going on amongst the various members, and whether this had anything to do with Claud’s demise. And with the help of some continuing series characters (Inspector Sunderland, Dr. Gosling, Daisy, Edna, Miss Jones), they are up to the task: putting their lives in peril with Lady Hardcastle’s driving as they chase around the county in the Silver Ghost, reading old newspapers in the Chipping Bevington library, witnessing a midnight meeting of the Weryers in the orchard, finding a few more dead bodies, filling out Lady Hardcastle’s “crime board”, and figuring out who the pretty new stranger in town is too.
Rotten is a classic historical cozy, but still manages to riff on some common human themes we can all relate to. At the same time, though, Kinsey’s writing is peppered with amusing moments. I especially liked Flo’s suggestion near the end that the Weryers should start admitting women (heavens !!!) to help make up their numbers, which were sadly depleted before the events in Rotten finally concluded. If I have any complaint at all, it’s a minor one, which is that I’m still having a bit of trouble with some of Lady Hardcastle’s and Flo’s backstory. But really, that’s more on me, since I’ve chosen to read the two most recent books first, and I need (and want) to go back and read at least some of the earlier ones, just to get a better feel for the characters. This isn’t a huge deal, though, because Kinsey provides just enough background to keep newbies like myself “in the story”. Finally, I’d like to note that Kinsey has again provided a nice historical summary at the end, and I always appreciate it when authors of historical novels share a bit of the research they’ve done, letting us know what is genuine background, and what is the author’s imagination.
So, five stars for Rotten to the Core, and, last, but not least, my thanks to Thomas & Mercer UK and to NetGalley for the review copy!