The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross is the second book in the Jesperson and Lane detective series. You don’t have to have read the first book (The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief) to follow the plot, but as I really enjoyed it, I would recommend that you catch up if you can.
The Witch at Wayside Cross starts less than a day after the previous book finished. Fresh from their success in solving their first case, Jesperson and Lane are plunged into their second by the arrival of a dying man on their doorstep. As he dies, he points his finger at our Miss Lane, and cries ‘Witch’.
Naturally, this stirs their curiosity, and a quick search of the body before the police arrive gives our detectives enough information to approach the next of kin. The deceased proves to be Mr Charles Manning, a resident of London who has recently spent a lot of time in Norfolk. Our heroes are swiftly hired by Manning’s older brother to investigate the cause of Charles’ mysterious death.
So, Jesperson and Lane venture to Norfolk, and in the guise of business partners in a start up publishing business, they infiltrate Charles Manning’s overlapping social circles and investigate the how and why of a healthy young man’s death. Whilst Mr Jesperson concentrates on Manning’s male acquaintances, Miss Lane draws a great deal of information from the ladies of the vicarage, where Manning lodged, and the neighbouring household of Wayside Cross, where three sisters are in mourning for him.
We’re introduced to a colourful cast of characters, a pet raven, Shrieking Pits, a stolen infant and a stolen book, and an attempt to revive the old religion of Britain. One of the interesting themes of the book is the repeated assertion that marriage brings an end to a woman’s career. The story is set in 1893, at at time when the UK labour movement was gaining a strong foothold but women still didn’t have the vote. Miss Lane’s professional need to communicate with her business partner is thwarted by her landlady’s suspicions that the relationship is more than it seems. The maid at the vicarage has to conceal a birth in order to keep her job. Both facts serve to remind us that these are times in which a young woman can be ‘ruined’ by a man. The social history and commentary is woven into a fast paced story that does not disappoint, with a satisfying ending.
I am grateful to Jo Fletcher books for the review copy.
The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross is available now.
You can find my review of The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief here.