Amongst the scholars, secrets and soporifics of Victorian Oxford, the truth can be a bitter pill to swallow…
Jesus College, Oxford, 1881. An undergraduate is found dead at his lodgings and the medical examination reveals some shocking findings. When the young man’s guardian blames the college for his death and threatens a scandal, Basil Rice, a Jesus college fellow with a secret to hide, is forced to act and finds himself drawn into Sidney Parker’s sad life.
The mystery soon attracts the attention of Rhiannon ‘Non’ Vaughan, a young Welsh polymath and one of the young women newly admitted to university lectures. But when neither the college principal nor the powerful ladies behind Oxford’s new female halls will allow her to become involved, Non’s fierce intelligence and determination to prove herself drive her on.
Both misfits at the university, Non and Basil form an unlikely partnership, and it soon falls to them to investigate the mysterious circumstances of Parker’s death. But between the corporate malfeasance and the medical quacks, they soon find the dreaming spires of Oxford are not quite what they seem…
An intriguing first installment of The Oxford Mysteries series by master crime writer, Alis Hawkins. Perfect for fans of Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Sarah Waters and Kaite Welsh.
Firstly thank you to Kate at Canelo Crime for very kindly sending me a proof copy of A Bitter Remedy.
When I saw the cover of A Bitter Remedy, I absolutely knew I needed to read it, especially as the colors match my brand!!
A Bitter Remedy is a historical crime novel, the first in a series, set in 1881 in Oxford at the birth of the women’s college movement. We follow our two main protagonists, Rhiannon “Non” Vaughan who is one of the first women to be allowed to study and go to lectures at Jesus College, Oxford, and Basil Rice, a Jesus College fellow who has a secret that he must keep hidden. Both are amazing characters, but they are far from the norm in Victorian society and find themselves investigating a strange death of an undergraduate.
The plot is superb in A Bitter remedy, and I adored Non, her fiesty, Intelligent, and gound-breaking character is amazing and I very easily loved her. Both Non and Basil are thrown into a world of propriety in the death of Sidney Parker and are drawn together to try to find out how and why he died and to get justice for him in a University that will do anything to keep things from the press and general public, in case it tarnishes their reputation.
Having never been to University, apart from a week’s Sales course over 30 years ago strangely at Oxford University, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t understand how University life was in 1881, especially for women. Alis Hawkins has obviously researched her history of women and how the female college movement started, and the setting is perfect for this novel.
I loved the intrigue, and the historical facts ( some had me scooting over to Google!) and I really felt I was actually there in the 1880s with Non and fighting her battles with her. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, but if you like historical crime fiction that is factual and also gripping, then A Bitter Remedy is going to be one to add to your reading list for 2023.
A brilliant 5 Stars from me, and I look forward to the second installment of The Oxford Mysteries.
Alis grew up on a dairy farm in Ceredigion. Her inner introvert thought it would be a good idea to become a shepherd and, frankly, if she had she might have been published sooner.
As it was, three years reading English at Oxford revealed an extrovert streak and a social conscience and she has spent the subsequent three decades variously working in a burger restaurant, bringing up two sons, working with homeless people, and – having trained as a speech and langauge therapist – helping teachers and families to understand their autistic children. And writing. Always. Nonfiction (autism related), plays (commissioned for production in heritage locations) and, of course, novels.
Initially fascinated by the medieval period, Alis began her crime and mystery career at Pan Macmillan with Testament, a novel set in a fictitious medieval university city. Part of Testament’s narrative takes place in the fourteenth century and part in the twenty-first which taught Alis that she is far more passionate about writing historical fiction than contemporary.
So she fast-forwarded four centuries from fourteenth South East England to nineteenth century West Wales to write a book based on Wales’s best kept historical secret: the Rebecca Riots. And then she fell in love – both with nineteenth century west Wales and her characters – and the result is the Teifi Valley Coroner crime series featuring visually impaired investigator, Harry Probert-Lloyd, and his chippy assistant, John Davies.
As a side-effect of setting her series in Ceredigion, instead of making research trips to sunny climes like more foresighted writers, she just drives across Wales to see her family.
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