Queen Elizabeth’s half sister tries to prove a loyal servant innocent of murder.
Ursula Blanchard is doing her best to live quietly in Surrey with her young son Harry, the offspring of a liaison with the first husband she had thought dead but met on her last perilous mission on the Continent. Since Ursula’s second husband passed away too early to have been Harry’s father, she must live with nasty gossip, especially from her neighbor Jane Cobbold, whom she is nonetheless visiting when Jane is found stabbed to death in her garden. The unimaginative sheriff seizes on Ursula’s trusted manservant Brockley for the murder. Even Jane’s husband does not believe Brockley guilty, but Roland Wyse, the one man who may have seen something, is no longer in the area. Since Wyse works for Lord Burghley, Ursula heads for London, where she learns that Wyse is already off on another errand. In the meantime, a man who lived on the Cobbold estate is also found murdered while carrying a letter in cipher. Putting up one of her estates as bail for Brockley, Ursula, along with Brockley and his wife, Dale, heads off hoping to find Wyse at the home of his man-eating mother. They discover that Wyse was half brother to the recently beheaded Duke of Norfolk. When they finally catch up to Wyse, who is busy on Burghley’s behalf looking for Catholic priests who are spreading sedition, he claims to have seen nothing that would help Brockley. Desperate to save her servant, Ursula realizes that the mysterious cipher may hold the answer.
Not the best of Ursula’s 12 mysteries (A Rescue for a Queen, 2013, etc.) but still as historically rich as ever.