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Rules of Engagement    by Bruce Alexander order for
Rules of Engagement
by Bruce Alexander
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This is the latest - and apparently the last - in a series featuring Sir John Fielding, the magistrate who organized the Bow Street Runners, forerunners of the British police force. In his final case, Sir John and his young assistant and ward, Jeremy, are faced with a puzzling mystery. Was Lord Lammermoor's demise suicide or death by misadventure, as ruled by the coroner? Fielding's superior, the Lord Chief Justice, refuses to believe that it could be suicide, nor is he pleased at the implication that his friend Lammermoor was unbelievably stupid in his suicide attempt. The decedent had leaped to the rail of Westminster Bridge, then plunged into the Thames in what appeared to be a futile attempt to fly. Lammermoor subsequently drowned, as he did not know how to swim.

Fielding and Jeremy soon discover a tangled web originating in Lammermoor's family. The suspects include the second Lady Lammermoor and her son. The older son, heir to the title, falls under suspicion as he is in London at the time of his father's death. Lammermoor's liaison with a young actress was no secret to Lady Lammermoor, whose influence seems widespread. She pops up in odd places, as does Dr. Goldsworthy, a practitioner of the uncanny art of animal magnetism or mesmerism. (The latter name recalls Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer; nowadays we call it hypnosis.) It doesn't take long for Fielding to suspect that animal magnetism plays a role in Lammermoor's death, but his investigation is hampered by the powerful and cunning widow.

In the end, the two investitgators come to the truth, but it is a tortuous trail they follow, and a dangerous one. Though I found the last twist rather too fantastical, Alexander has woven a fascinating plot. He also brings to life eighteenth-century London, a dangerous world for those without power or position. All in all, Rules of Engagement is an engrossing read.

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