by Sam Benady and Mary Chiappe
A damp, grey morning in October 1813: Wellington is well on his way to driving the French out of Spain, but the Peninsular War is not yet won. In the fortress city of Gibraltar a new yellow fever epidemic claims lives daily. The dead cart plies its grisly trade collecting bodies, but one corpse, that of a young, beautiful and aristocratic Spanish woman, is not ‘yellow enough’, yet no one seems to care unduly about this death. There are more pressing matters occupying the irascible Town Major, matters of spies and the security of the fortress, so it is left to Giovanni Bresciano, a local businessman of Anglo Genoese descent to resolve the mystery of her death.
Bresciano gradually uncovers the decidedly dubious past of the lady in question and soon has a clutch of promising suspects. Who murdered Magdalena Guzman? Was it the apparently blameless Captain Wentworth or the lady’s theatrical and nefarious uncle? Could it have been the heroic Colonel or his colourless wife, Lady Georgiana?
Then there is the lady’s fiancé, a truculent young naval lieutenant; and there is his sister, always protective of her younger brother. Of course, it could have been the slightly effete young doctor who had fallen under Magdalena’s spell. There are lies, half-truths and evasions to confuse our detective.
Bresciano discovers that the victim had been poisoned, but the coup de grace had been effected by different means. He has to tread a careful line as he attempts to unmask the killer, for the Town Major has no desire to see any British officer accused of the crime – yet all the evidence seems to point in that direction. Bresciano gradually uncovers blackmail; a link between a recent jewel robbery and the victim; letters which point to crucial information; and there are spies to be tracked down and a murderer to be unmasked.
Still, Bresciano is hampered when he develops too personal an interest in one of his prime suspects. So his investigation proceeds erratically as he makes mistakes and follows inspired guesses while he tries to unravel the tangled threads. Eventually he is ready to make an arrest.
It is done: and it is only then that he realises that he has blundered – again.