Queen Elizabeth I returns to her role as detective (The Fyre Mirror, 2005, etc.) when her royal starcher, Hannah von Hoven, is found drowned in a tub.
Meg Milligrew, Elizabeth’s strewing herb mistress of the privy chamber, had gathered two sackfuls of poisonous cuckoo-pint roots in the hopes of sharing in the profits from the fashionable taste for enormous starched ruffs. Meg planned to sell Hannah the roots to produce liquid starch; unfortunately, Meg finds Hannah’s drowned corpse shortly after a public dispute between the two women about Hannah’s penny-pinching ways has given the herb mistress an obvious motive. Simultaneously, Sir Thomas Gresham, the man the Queen relies on for financial management of the kingdom, shows an unusual reluctance to comply with the Queen’s request to visit her royal starchers and endorse the economic benefits of the new fashion. Gresham’s uneasiness turns to panic when his adopted daughter Marie goes missing and then is found suffering from amnesia near Hannah’s business. The Queen convenes her Privy Plot Council to find the real murderer, protect the burgeoning starch industry, save Meg from arrest and help Gresham and his family get back on their feet.
A sympathetic portrait of the Queen living up to her various loyalties, public and private, but the mystery takes second place to Harper’s focus on Elizabethan culture and her character’s romances.