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tamaranth

August 2017

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2017/49: Death by Silver -- Melissa Scott, Amy Griswold
He threw a satisfied glance at Ned, looking momentarily very much like one of the heroes of an adventure novel. Ned felt rather like one himself, and wished there were any chance of Julian putting his arms around him in an admiring way on the spot. [loc. 5335]


Death by Silver is set in an alternate London, probably in the local equivalent of the Victorian period: carriages not cars, telegrams rather than 'phones, cricket at Lords. Ned Mathey is a newly-qualified metaphysician, still trying to establish himself as a practitioner and curse-breaker. Edgar Nevett, whose son was at school with Ned, engages him to deal with a curse on the family silver. Ned can't detect any such curse -- but the next day, Nevett is dead, killed by an apparently-enchanted candlestick.

Ned enlists the help of his friend (-with-benefits) Julian Lynes, who is a detective. Both Ned and Julian were brutally bullied by Victor Nevett, the dead man's son: neither of them especially relishes the necessity of dealing with him now. But the case brings the two of them together more than casual visits have done, and as well as identifying the means, motive and method of the murderer -- in a satisfyingly complex plot -- they discover one another's misapprehensions about their relationship. (As in our own world, miscommunication is all too common in matters of romance.)

Death by Silver is a charming detective story with a romantic subplot, or possibly vice versa. It's strongly reminiscent of Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' stories (Julian is the one who extrapolates from detailed observation: Ned is the professional with the social skills) with the added dimension of an intricate and well-described system of magic. Magic's taken for granted: there are spells to keep the lid on a tea-pot if it's tipped over, spells to stop a gate admitting salesmen, love charms, contraceptive charms ... There is also, as mentioned by Ned's redoubtable clerk Miss Cordelia Frost, a London School of Metaphysics for Women: and Miss Frost hints at a whole sub-culture of women's magic based on domestic arts.

I should like to read more of Miss Frost's story, whether or not it intersected with Ned and Julian's. (There's a sequel, A Death at the Dionysus Club: it's on my list.)

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