The Red Monarch (Brontë Sisters Mystery #3) by Bella Ellis

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Yet another winning detectorist novel

Riseofthe

The Red Monarch is the third novel by Bella Ellis and is a story that. again, easily captured my attention.  This time the three sisters, accompanied by their brother, make their way to London to help a friend who finds herself in dire straits.  Lydia Roxby (formerly Robinson) finds herself alone and destitute.  Lydia has been disinherited by her family after eloping with Harry.  The two live in poverty in London and Harry is driven by circumstances to a life of crime. As the story begins Harry is taken by notorious crime lord, Noose, having stolen a valuable jewel.  Lydia has a week to return the missing item or both will suffer the consequences (involving lead boots and a watery grave perhaps).  Anne is the only friend that Lydia can turn to and consequently the family soon find themselves travelling to the Capital to help.

As with the Diabolical Bones I’m not going to elaborate on the plot.  Instead, I will again focus on those elements of the story that worked really well for me.

Firstly, the setting.  This time we are taken away from the wilds of Howarth and the moors that inspired their works. We find ourselves in a London roughly around the year 1846 (the sisters having recently published their poems).  London was a place of extreme contrasts.  Home to royalty, nobles and the upper class with their opulent lifestyles and extreme wealth but on the opposite side of the coin overpopulated by those suffering deprivation and poverty.  This is a city with a seething criminal underbelly. Dirty and unsanitary, people lived in dilapidated slums and were driven to lives of crime.   Ellis uses the period well utilising the infamous slums of the period known as the Rookery.  A seething mess of alleys and a twisted warren of streets where unsuspecting visitors could easily become targets for pickpockets and much worse.  We spend a good portion of time in a theatre where Lydia and her husband lived  in a small apartment.  I just loved this setting. The theatre is an inspired choice, it almost has a world of it’s own contained beneath the stage and seating.  Twisted corridors, rickety staircases leading to the precarious heights of the building and below the bright lights a warren of secret tunnels created for the rich and famous as a way to come and go in secret.  It’s a wonderful contrast between the gilded public side of the building and the worn and dark interior that hides many secrets.

Ellis manages to take the siblings into the very heart of danger as they explore London looking for answers.

Secondly, the characters.  Again, the family are really well portrayed.  The love between them all is apparent even as their differences shine out from the pages.  All the sisters have alternating chapters but Emily in particular enjoys the limelight.  Their characters really stand out, Charlotte’s shy yet bold nature, Emily’s complete desire to follow her own singular route, Anne, just maturing enough to have her own voice and Branwell who comes across even better in this instalment as he enjoys a period free from other influences.  On top of this we make the acquaintance of two very enigmatic members of the theatre who help the family stay safe and guide them through the perils of London.  These two characters really play into the story, particularly the actor Louis who is undoubtedly being portrayed as inspiration for Emily’s future writing.  The Machiavellian underworld has some very seedy characters that come from all walks of life, stooping to despicable acts and taking life without thought or regret.

Again, I loved the writing. Ellis manages to really conjure the period, her pacing is great and after a little set up I found myself glued to the page.

In terms of criticisms. Well, I haven’t elaborated on the plot for good reason.  I would say it’s fairly obvious what is going on here in many respects, but, I don’t really think that’s a negative to be honest – you have to remember the time and the characters themselves.  Reading from a different and much more cynical period it’s much easier to think the worst unlike these genteel and sheltered young women.

Overall, I’m loving this series.  There’s the mysteries, the period, the amazing characters and some small fantastical elements that play into the sensibilities and superstitions of the period.  My only quibble is (knowing the short lives of the Brontës I worry how many more novels we can expect and enjoy (hopefully at least a couple more).

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars