Death In The Setting Sun (2004) by Deryn Lake

After last week’s disastrous foray into the world of serial killers, I decided to keep with the notion of reading new authors but plumped for the world of the historical whodunit instead for this week’s entry into the Alphabet of Crime Fiction, specifically the letter L.

Death In The Setting Sun by Deryn Lake is the tenth in a series of Georgian murder mysteries featuring the apothecary John Rawlings and compatriots and it did feel a bit that I’d missed out on some background by coming in at number ten. A number of previous acquaintances show up from time to time and I got the feeling that I was supposed to think, hurrah, so-and-so’s turned up, but unfortunately I was ignorant of their charms.

In this book, Rawlings is happily married with a young daughter, but pretty soon his wife is murdered at Princess Amelia’s winter palace. Rawlings goes on the run, as he had the misfortune to be found cradling the body, but soon returns to the scene of the crime to clear his name and find the real murderer.

It’s a jolly little book – unlike The Bride of Newgate which mostly used historical trivia to set the scene, this seems like a much more natural setting. Real people and events (including Rawlings himself) are woven into the story seamlessly and while one has to suspend a little disbelief at the fact that Rawlings can return to the household where the crime was committed and inveigle himself into it with little more than some hair dye and an eyepatch, it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.

As a mystery, it is lacking. The central plot doesn’t pick up until about halfway through the book, instead following Rawlings to Devon and back, primarily to obtain the help of an old flame, who promptly is completely underused in the rest of the book. The identity of the multiple murderer (three victims in total) was extremely obvious to me, and the motive in particular seemed lazy in the extreme. It’s not helped by all of the other well-drawn characters are clearly on Rawlings’ side, so finding the only other substantial character to be the killer didn’t exactly surprise me. Then again, like with The Hundredth Man, maybe I’m not the sort of person this book is being written for.

As I said though, it was an agreeable little read, and, as I know the next volume is in my local library, I may well revisit Mr Rawlings in the future. I do hope that Lake stops alternating his name in the book between “John “ and “The Apothecary” complete with capital A, as it makes him sound like a WWF wrestler.


  1. Many thanks for this week’s contribution to the CFA. Here is yet another new-to-me author. Thanks for pointing her(?) out. In writing historical crime there is always a difficult balance to be struck between the setting and the crime, isn’t there? – the authentic setting vs the real plot


  2. Absolutely right about the balance – often in my limited experience the crime part suffers dreadfully in comparison to the author’s attempt (successful or not) to paint the historical backdrop – see, for example, the Cadfael novels. Here, the crime is reasonably well done but the killer, as I said, is given away by there basically being no other credible suspects and having a motive that in any crime novel is a bit of cheat.

    There’s another historical on the way, from a different author. I think I might delve a little more into the genre to see what I’m missing.


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