I started reading this for the Save Our Cozies Readathon, but didn't finish it in time to post the review. Ordinarily, I would've just skipped the review since I have so many other things to do, but I loved this book so much, I just had to review it.
Title: Murder at Fountainebleau (Elizabethan Mysteries #5)
Author: Amanda Carmack
Genres: Historical fiction| Mystery| Female sleuth
Print length: 297 pages
Publication date: June 7, 2016
Author's website: http://amandacarmack.com/
In the latest Elizabethan mystery by the author of Murder at Whitehall, amateur sleuth Kate Haywood investigates deadly machinations unfolding behind the scenes in the magnificent French court.
1561. Queen Elizabeth’s throne is threatened as Mary Queen of Scots—pushed in every direction by opposing and powerful forces—declares herself the rightful Queen of England. To discover her rival’s next unpredictable move, Elizabeth dispatches a party of trustworthy intimates to Mary’s court at Fontainebleau. Chief among them is Kate Haywood, who finds that the glittering balls and genial banquets conceal a web of poisonous ambition that soon turns deadly.
When a beautiful and disruptively flirtatious member of the visiting party is murdered, Kate suspects that the man who stands accused has been set up to discredit Elizabeth. She vows to find the real killer, but the French court is a labyrinth unlike any she has ever navigated before—and at every turn there are more traps set to spring.
The plot: Kate Haywood is Queen Elizabeth's court musician and occasional spy. Due to Kate's position, she can go places where most women cannot. However, because she is "just a woman", she tends to be overlooked and takes advantage of this to collect gossip and sensitive information to report back to the Queen.
After King Francis, Mary's young husband, dies, Kate is sent along with a delegation to extend Queen Elizabeth's sympathies and also find out what her plans are now. Will she remarry to hold onto her power? Retire quietly in the French countryside? Return to Scotland as their queen? Attempt to overthrow Elizabeth after declaring herself the rightful Queen of England? It's Kate's job to find out.
While at court, a member of the English delegation is killed. Some wish to brush it off as a tragic accident, but Kate suspects that it's really murder. Queen Mary echoes this sentiment, accusing a member of the visiting English party of the crime, which now feels like a setup to cast aspersions on Queen Elizabeth's intentions.
The victim, a stunningly beautiful young woman, had been brushed off as a frivolous flirt, but Kate senses there was much more to her than she let on. She was previously involved in a scandal the last time she was at court, with a young man known for some questionable political ties. Could this have anything to do with the young woman's murder? Or was it the classic tale of a jealous suitor giving into a fit of passion?
As Kate delves into the background of those at court, where political intrigue is simply a game they all must play, she has to ask herself: Who can she trust?
The character(s): Our heroine, Kate, is intelligent, talented, loyal, and discreet. Her position as court musician gives her the perfect opportunity to mingle unobtrusively while collecting information. What a wonderfully interesting character.
This is the first book in the series that I've read, so I don't know much about the love triangle being set up between Kate, Rob (the dashing head of the court acting troupe), and Anthony (the handsome, steady soon-to-be lawyer), but it's touched on very lightly. I did not feel like I was missing out at all by not reading the earlier books in the series.
The mystery: I was enjoying the world, characters, and set up so much that I didn't even realize I was over 100 pages into the book and the murder hadn't occurred yet! In fact, I almost wish I hadn't read the back cover, since it spoils who's going to be murdered. I actually would've preferred the tension and suspense of not knowing who was going to die. I was able to figure out who the murderer was, but I was still completely drawn in during the big reveal. Very satisfying.
Final bite: I loved this story so much that (literally) as soon as I finished, I went online and ordered all 5 books from my favorite independent history and mystery bookstore, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. I can't wait til they arrive so I can read the earlier installments in the series. If you like historical fiction and enjoy a good traditional mystery, definitely check this out.