I read Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin Paige a couple of weeks ago for the Summer Mystery Challenge. I chose it because I enjoy historical detective novels, especially of the cozy type. And, I especially like ones with a feisty heroine! My view of the book is summed up with Anne Perry's quote on the back: "I read it with enjoyment." It wasn't a stunning piece of literature; it didn't bring about any paradigm shifts; but it was fun.
Robin Paige is, according to the back cover, the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife team who lives in Texas hill country. Now, Texas hill country is very close to my heart, but I thought it odd that a couple of Texans were setting their books in Victorian England. The blurb on the back gave a website ( http://www.mysterypartners.com/), so I decided to check up on their bios to see if they've lived in England. That would be a no. The wife has lived in California, Texas, and Louisiana; the husband New York and Texas (although at least he's done some travelling). I feel that this lack of first-hand experience with England really shows through in their writing. When I wasn't living in Texas as a kid, I was in England. Part of what I like about British mysteries (especially Agatha Christie) is their ability to remind me of bits of my past. This book simply didn't ring true: both the setting and the British characters were just off.
Now that I've pinpointed what was wrong with the book, I'll point out that I still enjoyed it. The plot was fast-paced and attention-getting. The main character, Kathryn Ardleigh, is barely surviving as an author of penny dreadfuls in New York City. So, when she gets an offer to be a secretary/companion to her long-lost aunt in England, she's on the next boat over the Atlantic. Upon arriving, she makes friends with the local gentry and realises that her aunt's situation is more complex than it appears. It falls upon her to figure out who is responsible for a rash of murders. Meanwhile, she forms allies with everyone from the cook to Sir Charles.
The writing is pretty much what you'd expect from someone who brags they've written 90 books in the last 20 years. That works out to more than four novels a year, which doesn't leave much room for impressive writing. None of the characters felt like they had any depth; instead, they all pretty much lived out their stereotypes. I doubt I'll be reading more of this series; I enjoy mystery novels, but I prefer the ones that are really well written. There are very few authors who can stand up to Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayer, even Ngaio Marsh. Unfortunately, this husband and wife team doesn't make the bill. I'd only recommend this series to people who have low expectations from murder mysteries; if you're used to contemporary authors like Laurie King and Anne Perry, whose historical novels have that ring of authenticity, you'll be disappointed in Paige.