I realize intellectually that, even though I read like a fiend, I can’t read everything that’s written or every good author out there…not for lack of trying, of course. Still, when I stumble onto an award-winning author I’ve never heard of, I always do a bit of a double-take. Paula Paul falls into that category. She’s written ~28 novels of all kinds and has won multiple awards as both an author and a journalist, and I’m just now learning about her. Go figure.
Anyway, I knew I wanted to read For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul when I read the publisher’s brief description of it. It didn’t matter to me that it was Book #5 in this series – I decided I’d just have to figure it out because the concept was too intriguing to pass up. How could I resist a mystery that features a female physician turned reluctant sleuth and involves Freemasons in a small 19th century English village? Pffft, you know me well enough by now to know I was not going to let that one slip past me – no way.
I might have benefited from reading Books #1-#4; however, I had absolutely no problem reading For Dead Men Only as a stand-alone read. Of course, now I want to read the first four novels in this series – luckily they’re available at bargain prices – Yay! If you like Victorian English cozy mysteries with lots of suspense, then I’m betting you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did – let’s see…
Dr. Alexandra Gladstone lives in Newton-Upon-Sea in the 1880’s. This tiny village is in the Northern English coastal region of Northumberland. Her father was the village physician and Alexandra has worked to carry on his legacy, despite the common openly skeptical opinion of most villagers that women cannot possibly be physicians, no matter who their father was or how well trained they are.
Newton-Upon-Sea is also home to the Temple of the Ninth Daughter, a literal tall, grey, imposing temple on the hillside and the meeting place for the village’s secretive group of Freemasons. Freemasons have met in the village for as long as anyone can recall, and all kinds of myths surround the group’s origins. Many villagers believes the temple was started by one of the original Templars, and that it contains a secret hoard of treasure brought back from the Holy Wars. Whatever the truth, nobody’s talking about it – least of all the current Freemasons.
“Using his key, Fitzsimmons unlocked the heavy wooden doors and pushed both of them open. He felt a rush of cold air and took in the familiar heavy scent of things ancient and mystical…he could make out the altar in the middle, a velvet rope defining its boundaries. Behind it, a distance away, was the ornately carved throne of the Grand Master. His throne…
He was startled when he noticed someone watching him – a figure slouched in the corner. He immediately retrieved the bonnet, fearing the person watching him would think he had defiled the altar. Naturally, the watcher would be a fellow Freemason. There are no reason for anyone else to enter the temple…
‘Who’s there?’ he shouted, and in the same moment recognized the figure as Saul Mayhew. ‘Brother Mayhew, why are you – ‘
Mayhew slowly slipped to the floor, and Fitzsimmons, when he saw the gaping mouth and unblinking eyes, realized he was dead.”
To Alexandra, the Freemasons are an eccentric bunch of men who have secret handshakes and an excuse to get together to do who knows what on weekends. She has no time for them since her hands are more than full taking care of the local villagers’ many illnesses, tending to women with pregnancy complications, and sadly helping those who are about to depart this world. The bottom line is that between all of the time she has to spend in surgery and making rounds, while protected by her faithful dog, Zack, she has no time for fripperies like secret societies. She barely has time to sleep these days.
And then one of the Freemasons is found dead, of seemingly natural causes. He’s wearing his Masonic ritual apron and there’s just a small touch of blood on it. How odd. Still, who knows what goes on in those rituals? The police don’t consider an autopsy necessary and, as a woman, Alexandra would not be allowed to perform one anyway. Women are not allowed to look upon nude male bodies, even dead ones – heaven forbid. Of course that hasn’t stopped her from performing such autopsies in the past, but she’d be in serious trouble if anyone actually admitted to knowing she’d done such a thing.
She’s just too busy with emergencies affecting the living to give much thought to this death, although she finds it odd that an autopsy isn’t being done. Then another Freemason dies and is found exactly like the first one was…and that makes her begin to ask questions. She really doesn’t believe in that kind of coincidence, even if the deaths do look natural. Something doesn’t add up but she’s still not sure what and is still too busy to do much about it.
And then villagers begin to report seeing a mysterious Knight Templar riding on horseback at night. Some have scary tales about frightening encounters with and warnings from the dark knight – and that he could be responsible for the Freemasons’ deaths.
The whole village is in an uproar, and it only gets worst when the constable in charge of the police force, who’s also a Freemason, suddenly leaves town right in the middle of what everyone believes should now be a multiple murder investigation. Why would he desert the village when it needs him the most? Has he fled for his life because he knows something they don’t know? Gasp – Could he be the killer?
Tales have long been told about what happens to people who search for the temple’s treasure. Could someone have stolen the treasure? Some villagers believe that may be why the Templar is riding the village at night… to seek revenge on those it believes hunt the treasure and the temple’s age-old secrets.
Fear-filled rumors run rampant throughout the small village grapevine. Who will be next? Is anyone safe? How can they stop the murders before they’re all killed in their beds? In other words – People are spooking themselves and each other to the point that they are quickly beginning to form a mob mentality.
Alexandra believes the only way to calm the villagers and solve this mystery is to autopsy the dead Freemasons, whose numbers keep growing. But how to do that when she has been strictly forbidden from doing so? She’s going to need help, and only one person she knows might be powerful enough to help her. Can she overcome her personal reasons for not wanting to involve him?
Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is a strong, intelligent woman who is caught in a time that postulates constantly that women have no intelligence, no strength, must be coddled like objects de art or severely punished like slaves, and must never be allowed to guess that they could possibly have minds of their own. She has to fight the pervasive messaging just to be even vaguely who she knows herself to be. You’ve got to marvel at someone who is persistent enough to do that when outside forces are so overwhelming. And the “him” she doesn’t want to involved? Lord Dunsford, who is incredibly smitten with her – yep, there’s a love interest. The only problem is that a love interest is a huge liability for someone like Dr. Gladstone, given society’s attitudes about male-female relationships in that era. Sigh – the course of true love never seems to run smooth…
I had a blast reading For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul. Although I’m calling it a cozy because it has all of those hallmarks, it’s so much more. It looks at how small towns react to danger in their midst and features an amateur, reluctant detective who seems the only one to recognize murder in their midst. But For Dead Men Only also looks at the class system as well as the roles women and men played in the late 19th century, and how those roles limited both. It also looks at how prevailing attitudes held them back in so many ways, and at how superstition and fear of the unknown can turn even the nicest people into something unrecognizable. I literally read For Dead Men Only in one sitting, and loved every minute of it. I think you will too, and who can beat the price of admission?
Can’t wait to read it? For Dead Men Only is available as an e-book from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can download it to read on your e-reader, tablet, or computer immediately!
And if you’re interesting in the first four bargain-priced novels in this series, most are available as e-books and paperbacks (Medium Dead is only available as an e-book). Here are links to them (in the order in which they were published):
I’d love to read your comments on For Dead Men Only, Paula Paul and/or her other work, and/or this review!