The Deathly Portent
Publisher: Penguin Group
Line: Berkley Trade
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Retail Price: 15.00
Her charm and cajolery may fool the unwary. Unscrupulous and cunning, as dauntless as she is resolute, the incomparable "Lady Fan" is as ruthless as the killer she is tracking in...
A violent murder has left the village of Witherley aghast. The locals are convinced that a witch doing the devil's work is to blame-a young woman believed to have second sight. The new vicar, Aidan, taking up the cudgels in her defence, fears the witch hunt is escalating out of his control. But help is at hand.
The bright and perceptive Ottilia, once a lady's companion and now bride to Lord Francis Fanshawe, is drawn to Witherley by an insatiable curiosity. Ottilia rapidly uncovers a raft of suspects with grudges against the dead man, one of whom is determined to incriminate the "witch." And as foul play runs rampant, Ottilia must wade through the growing hysteria to unravel the tangle and point a finger at the one true menace...
The coach of Lord Francis Franshawe and his new bride Ottilia has broken down on the way home from visiting Ottilia’s elderly godmother. Francis’s groom Ryde walks to the nearby village of Witherley to find a blacksmith. The newlyweds are shocked to learn Duggleby the blacksmith had just been killed when a roof caved in on him the night before. At first the roof collapse seems to be caused by a severe storm, but Lord and Lady Fan learn the villagers think the damage was caused by a witch’s curse.
A few days before the accident, Mrs. Cassie Dale had foreseen the roof falling down on Duggleby and now she has been branded a witch. Cassie is forced to take sanctuary with the Reverend Aidan Kinnerton when she is stoned by some of the local boys. Before long, it is discovered that Duggleby was hit in the head before the roof collapsed, but Cassie is still Witherley’s number one suspect. Ottilia is glad to have the excuse of a broken-down carriage to stay and talk to some of the residents of Witherley and find out what really happened. Ottilia was recently able to solve a murder that occurred in Lord Francis’s family and she is confident she can solve this one. However, Ottilia doesn’t count on the depth of the villagers’ superstitions or just how dangerous the investigation will become.
The Deathly Portent is a follow-up novel to the wonderful series debut The Gilded Shroud. The first book was one of my favorite books of 2011, so I had high expectations for the sequel. Although The Deathly Portent is a good book, it doesn’t live up to the excellence of the first book. Lord and Lady Fan are still delightful in the scenes they share. Their love for each other is still strong and they are happy just to spend time together. Lady Fan is kind and capable and doesn’t hesitate to take charge, whether it’s to play matchmaker or solve a murder. Lord Francis is devoted to Ottilia and is fine with staying in Witherley so she can ask questions regarding the murder until it becomes clear that her life could be in danger because she is getting too close to the truth. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see enough of Lord and Lady Fan together, which is the best part of this series.
The people of Witherley think Cassie Dale is a witch and that accusation and the subsequent events is the main focus of the book. Although Cassie is somewhat aloof and prickly, she is a good person and an interesting character, and I enjoy watching her growing friendship with Aidan unfold. On the other hand, with a few exceptions, most of the other residents of Witherley are interchangeable and unlikeable. Almost everyone is hateful toward Cassie and each other. At one points, there is a catfight between two of the women of the town which is ridiculous and detracts from the book.
My main criticism of the book, however, is the way the dialogue of the local people of Witherley is written. I’m sure it is written authentically and it does convey the Georgian England era, but it really slows the pace of the story. Sentences like the one below leave the reader frustrated and don’t add anything to the story.
“Enough to say as the witch seen her dead, as like nor Duggleby as makes no matter.”
Not all of the local dialogue is this perplexing, but passages like this are frequent and it eventually becomes tiring to decipher what the characters are saying and whether or not it’s important to the story. Fortunately, buried beneath the confusing language and overly long scenes with the residents of the town, there is an interesting mystery with a unique hero and heroine. Overall, it’s a pleasant read, even if it isn’t as magical as the prior book. At the end of the book, Ottilia hints to Lord Francis that there could be a time that she gets involved in another investigation, and I enjoy her character enough that I want to read about her next adventures in future installments.
Reviewed by Christine K.