How could you prove someone an impostor before fingerprints and DNA tests?
When Augustus Bagot, the stepson who ran away at 14, reappears to claim an inheritance after his mother's death, wealthy Bristol resident Horatio Huxtable asks apothecary and amateur sleuth John Rawlings to determine whether he is who he claims to be. Rawlings’ adoptive father, Sir Gabriel Kent, accompanies Rawlings so he can partake of the waters of Hotwell, a nearby spa popular with the upper classes. When they arrive, Huxtable explains that he sees no resemblance between the unpleasant, grossly overweight claimant and the freckle-faced boy he last saw many years ago. The real Bagot has a mole on his posterior, his only identifying mark. Rawlings and his coachman, Irish Tom, explore low pubs and whorehouses, both male and female, looking for clues. When Bagot falls to his death on some dangerous steps near Hotwell, an examination proves him a fraud. But did the person who murdered him by greasing the steps think he was the real Bagot, or was it someone in his recent life with a grudge? Rawlings’ search is interrupted by a note sent by his former lover, the mother of his twin sons, begging him to visit her. He arrives in Devon to find the spirited and beautiful Marchesa Elizabeth di Lorenzi dying of cancer and agrees to take the boys after she passes. Heartbroken, he returns to Hotwell, where he finds any number of likely suspects.
Newcomers and devoted fans of Lake’s hero (Death at the Wedding Feast, 2011, etc.), based on a real 18th-century apothecary, will delight in the period detail, excellent mystery and well-drawn characters.