A voyage to the New World is anything but smooth sailing for an 18th-century sleuth.
Twice-widowed apothecary John Rawlings is en route from England with his family when he meets the first of many obstacles to a planned business venture. His ship is wrecked, and it’s many months before he, his three children, and a few other survivors can travel from the remote island where they’ve washed up to civilization and finally to Boston. The company includes an Indian guide, two dandies, and an imperious widow, as well as a fading beauty, Lady Conway, and her much younger husband. When Rawlings finally arrives in Boston, his hope of selling his recipe for carbonated water fades: his prospective partner in trade has died and left his tavern to his niece. Rawlings goes into business with her instead by setting up an apothecary shop in the tavern. One of his first patients is the celebrated Dr. Joseph Warren, and through him Rawlings meets some of the other prominent Sons of Liberty. Although he sympathizes with some of their complaints, he’s still loyal to the Crown and more intent on keeping his children safe than meddling in politics. When he places his daughter in a school for girls, he learns that the headmistress is a former actress—and a former lover of his younger years. They resume their affair in the midst of growing Colonial unrest and threats of rebellion. Rawlings is an uneasy witness to the Boston Tea Party and the death of Lady Conway, who, disguised as a boy, falls from a ship’s rigging and drowns. After he uncovers secrets about her distant past and her more recent activities, his attempts to find her killer lead to danger for both himself and his beloved children.
The 16th entry in Lake’s series (Death on the Rocks, 2014, etc.) is slow to fulfill the promise of its title. But period detail and quirky characters help make up for the leisurely pace.