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Dead Man Riding: A Nell Bray Mystery    by Gillian Linscott order for
Dead Man Riding
by Gillian Linscott
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Nina de Angeli

Splendid summer weather, an idyllic university holiday in England's scenic northern lake district -- what more could Oxford undergraduates want in the hopeful, progressive year 1900? Nell Bray joins Alan Beston and four other friends to make up a daringly unconventional mixed-sex reading party to study Greek philosophy, mentored by a dashing young professor with radical ideas.

Alan's great-uncle has invited them to stay at his Arabian horse-breeding farm in the hills. Confronted on their arrival with village rumors that their host is a traitor who opposes the British conquest of the Boers in South Africa, they try to ignore the hostility and focus on philosophy. But their hopes for tranquility are rudely shattered when a '[Ri:horse named Sid comes
alloping out of the mist with a dead man on his back.]' The horse breeder is dead, but is it suicide, accident, or murder?

Nell has trouble accepting the obvious explanation, and gets caught up in the intellectual challenge of investigating what really happened, following academic logic to a devastating conclusion. Amid the fragrance of wild flowers and the sound of mountain waterfalls, puppy love turns deadly serious when the bright, innocent undergraduates confront the harsh reality of death.

Linscott's perfect command of the historical setting shows in many everyday details like cooking oatcakes in the farm kitchen, or women wearing long skirts even for hiking, despite the mud. The intellectual atmosphere of college life as an exciting new opportunity for women also conveys the period well. As a historical writer, Linscott stands out with her graceful style and ability to integrate complex political themes, like the controversy over the Boer War in this book or the suffrage movement in others of the series, with engaging characters and carefully plotted mysteries.

As a long-standing fan of the independent and sharp-witted suffragist and amateur sleuth Nell Bray, I thoroughly enjoyed this tenth entry in the series. It is set early in the century to show us Nell as a very young woman before her decision to dedicate her life to fighting for the right to vote, and tells the tale of her first sleuthing adventure. (Note that previous books in this series have won the CWA / Ellis Peters Historical Dagger and the Herodotus for Best International Historical Mystery.)

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