Books by Bernard Bastable

A MANSION AND ITS MURDER by Bernard Bastable
Released: May 1, 1998

From the perspective of half a century later, Sarah Jane Fearing, the unwilling heiress of Fearing's Bank, tells the slender tale of how her beloved Uncle Frank, eager to pay off his many debts at the same time he accommodated the family frantic for a male heir, entered a bargain in 1893 to marry Mary Coverdale, impeccably pedigreed, coldly attractive, and professionally focused on reigning as chatelaine over Blakemere. The bargain turns into a disaster for everyone concerned when Frank and Mary's firstborn son turns out to be retarded; Frank and his family clash over whether Frank has fulfilled his promise to provide them with a male heir; and a ceremonious family conference erupts in what Sarah is convinced is a murder—followed by the disappearance of Frank (to Australia, so they say) and Mary (back to her older, and now wiser, family), and by the suspicious enrichment of potential witnesses. Robert Barnard, writing in his Bastable guise (Too Many Notes, Mr. Mozart, 1996, etc.) adroitly uses his story to point a familiar moral about the poisoned alliance between self-regarding old British families and the money they demand to support themselves, though the moral turns out to have an extra point at the end. A miniature so exquisitely crafted that you almost forget it's really a Robert Barnard short story writ large. Read full book review >
TOO MANY NOTES, MR. MOZART by Bernard Bastable
Released: June 1, 1996

It's 1830. Salty William IV has replaced his late unlovable brother George IV on the British throne, but Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, now a vigorous 73, just keeps rolling along. In Bastable's third installment of his posthumous adventures (Dead, Mr. Mozart, 1995, etc.)—this one rather confusingly presented under the byline of Bastable's well-known originator, Robert Barnard—the aging composer has been engaged as music master to 11-year-old Princess Victoria, who precociously asks him (a wish soon seconded by the deceptively shrewd King) to keep an eye on her mother, the widowed Duchess of Kent, and her Comptroller, Sir John Conroy. But an invitation to Victoria and her mother to visit the King at Windsor Castle upstages the Duchess's possible entanglements, first by the myriad intrigues of the FitzClarences, the King's enterprising illegitimate offspring, and then by the death of Mr. Popper, the Queen's Theater manager who's just paraded Mozart's latest theatrical offering, Victor and Victoria, before the King. Convinced that Popper's poisoned cup was meant for the Princess, Mozart finds himself regarding with the deepest suspicion every member of the royal family who looks down a Hanoverian nose at him. The mystery is dullish stuff. But the young Victoria is enchanting, and Mozart himself (``I have just finished a violin concerto for Paganini. Trying to prevent him writing any more himself'') as effervescent as ever. Read full book review >
DEAD, MR. MOZART by Bernard Bastable
Released: April 19, 1995

Robert Barnard, writing his second novel as Bernard Bastable (To Die Like a Gentleman, 1993), has fun with the story of a 64- year-old Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart. The impecunious, self-pitying composer of Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, living in England from boyhood, yearns still for all things German and feels ill-used by the English—especially by aristocrats like Lord Hertford, who supports the Opera House, and by impresario Mr. Popper (a musical ignoramus in Mozart's eyes), who runs it. The year is 1820; the Prince of Wales is about to ascend the throne. Caroline of Brunswick, his drunken, amoral wife, though supported by the rabble, is on trial before the House of Lords as unfit to share the crown. Meanwhile, Jenny Bowles, a snivelling housemaid at Caroline's temporary residence, brings Lord Hertford a particularly nasty report on her behavior. Jenny is given a job as dresser to singer Betty Ackroyd until her testimony can be heard—but before that happens she's found stabbed to death backstage, with Mozart a complaisant if uneasy participant in the disposal of the body. It's Mozart, though, who inadvertently stumbles on the killer and contrives a devious justice. The mystery here is rather feeble window dressing for a wittily ironic study of genius beset—and of the life and times of royals who make today's seem a bunch of innocents. For music mavens, a tour de force; others may wish for more Barnard, less Bastable. Read full book review >
TO DIE LIKE A GENTLEMAN by Bernard Bastable
Released: Aug. 16, 1993

Author Robert Barnard, writing for the first time as Bernard Bastable, sets his story in the English countryside of 1842 and in the Elmstead Court household of Sir Richard Hudson—comprised of Sir Richard, his wife, son Andrew, and three daughters, the oldest of whom is rebellious 18-year-old Jane. Andrew's tutor is William Worsley, and governess Frances Weyland is a recent addition. Behind a well-bred faáade, Sir Richard, between bouts of illness, rules and intimidates his family with cruel sarcasm and—in Andrew's case—worse. But the reader soon learns, through a series of letters and diary entries, that the real power behind this throne is Sir Richard's massive manservant Joseph, guided by his equally venal mother. Joseph is aware of Lady Hudson's affair with the family doctor; of Andrew's thwarted desire to go to Cambridge; of his tutor's hopes for appointment, through Sir Richard, to the vicarage at Little Burdock, but, above all, he alone has the means to prove murder when Sir Richard dies. The enthralled reader, briskly carried along by the author's literate, subtle, suspenseful narrative, may feel a bit let down by the abruptness of the windup—but the going is sheer delight in the hands of a master of the genre. Read full book review >