Written by Linda Stratmann — Linda Stratmann is an author we’re familiar with here at Crime Fiction Lover for her Frances Doughty mysteries. The Royal Ghost is slightly different. It’s the second book in the author’s Mina Scarletti series and is set in 1870s Brighton. It features an amateur sleuth who, like Frances, is a rather unconventional young woman.
Mina writes horror stories but is a sceptic when it comes to supernatural matters, especially individuals who claim to be able to communicate with the dead. Her detecting debut was in 2015’s Mr Scarletti’s Ghost, in which a fraudulent medium called Miss Eustace targets the most vulnerable members of Brighton Society, including Mina’s recently widowed mother, Lydia.
The Royal Ghost picks up Mina’s story and now the notorious Miss Eustace is due to stand trial for her crimes. However, it is the arrival of the adventurer and spiritualist William Hope Wallace that has the attention of people in Brighton. That, and the publication of a scandalous new book, written by two sisters under an assumed name. On both accounts, Mina remains unimpressed and decidedly sceptical.
When Hope Wallace first arrives it’s to give a talk about his recent adventures in Africa and the plight of Dr David Livingstone who has gone missing there. Mina attends with her mother and overly excitable sister Edith, who is staying with them while her husband is away on business. Hope Wallace’s speech takes a more unsavoury tone when he discusses his interest in spiritualism. Mina is immediately suspicious.
Hope Wallace’s true intentions alarm Mina when he visits her at home. With the Eustace case imminent, he is championing the cause of the accused and approaches Mina to try and convince her to retract her statement. Finding her unwilling to oblige, he tries to look for her weaknesses, one of which is her health. Mina suffers from scoliosis, a condition causing pain every day, for which she goes to regular massage sessions.
Meanwhile, that new book we mentioned is being devoured by the ladies of Brighton, though few in Mina’s circle are prepared to admit reading it. Two sisters, writing as ‘the Misses Bland’, have published a book claiming that they saw the ghost of the late King as he was during his days as Prince Regent. Of course, this is enough to gain Mina’s interest and she immediately smells a rat, especially when she discovers that Hope Wallace is championing the authors. She’s determined to find out exactly what he’s up to and who the mysterious Bland sisters really are.
If you enjoy the Frances Doughty mysteries then you’ll find this book right down your street. Mina isn’t a career detective. She’s more an accidental investigator with a deep suspicion of things don’t seem logical. It is set at a time when spiritualism was all the rage, before people like Harry Houdini debunked fake mediums. In the first book in the series, Mina’s recently widowed mother and several friends fell victim to this brand of crime, prompting her to act. This time, both her mother and incredibly silly older sister are hooked in. Mina is very good at investigating without revealing much to her adversary, which makes the conclusion that much more entertaining. This is a cleverly crafted mystery, albeit a little slow to get going.
The Mystery Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars