Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Body on the Doorstep by A. J. MacKenzie

"Scarecrow! Scarecrow!

On the southern coast of England there's a legend people tell,
Of days long ago when the great Scarecrow would ride from the jaws of hell,
And laugh with a fiendish yell,
With his clothes all torn and tattered,
Through the black of night he'd ride
From the marsh to the coast like a demon ghost,
He'd rob the rich then hide,
And he'd laugh till he split his side

Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the king feared his name.
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The country folk all loved him just the same.


These lyrics are copyright 1963 by Terry Gilkyson. And, anyone who grew up watching Diseny's "Wonderful World of Color", and is old enough to remember 1964, will remember those haunting lyrics. That was the opening to "Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh". And, it's all I could think about when I read A.J. MacKenzie's debut novel, The Body on the Doorstep, a mystery that features the Reverend Hardcastle, the minister at St. Mary in the Marsh in Romney Marsh.

In 1796, the people of southeast England's coast fear an invasion by the French. The sea provides their livelihood, but it also presents a threat. The small village of Romney Marsh on the coast is a hotbed of smuggling. Reverend Hardcastle's parishioners may not show up for services, but they are deeply involved in the local business of smuggling. He knows it, and they acknowledge he knows it by leaving him gifts of brandy. In fact, Hardcastle drinks at the local pub with many of those men. The Excise and Customs men responsible for collecting taxes are not quite as welcome there. 

It's after midnight when there's a pounding on Hardcastle's door, and the drunken rector stumbles his way there. But, when a dying man falls on his doorstep, a man who was shot, Hardcastle is aware enough to catch his last words. It's a message Hardcastle keeps to himself until the right person comes along. Mrs. Chaytor is a widow, a newcomer to the village, and her comments about the shots fired that night are enough to catch Hardcastle's attention. It isn't long before he teams up with the shrewd woman and the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, to pool their knowledge. 

Hardcastle and Chaytor are involved in a dangerous business. While Chaytor is a widow, Hardcastle has to deal with supervision by the Church as well as Lord Clavertye. He's the one who becomes a target when their investigation disturbs the wrong people. And, they seem to stir up trouble when they ask questions about a mysterious group called The Twelve Apostles.

Smuggling, murder, threats, bribery. MacKenzie's debut mystery is a fascinating historical mystery involving an actual hotbed of smuggling. The historical details bring the atmospheric mystery to life, while Hardcastle and Chaytor make a well-matched team of sleuths. There's even humor in this fascinating mystery.

If you relished the story of Dr. Syn; if you remember the Scarecrow, you'll want to read about the adventures of the Reverend Hardcastle and the widow, Mrs. Chaytor.

The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie. Bonnier Zaffre, 2017. ISBN 9781785761201 (paperback), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Christie said...

I think you need to share your copy with Linda!

Lesa said...

I already gave Linda my copy!

BPL Ref said...

EEEEEEEEEEKKKKKK! Patrick McGoohan!!! I'm sold!


Lesa said...

Well, that's how I pictured him, Jeanne.

Jayne said...

Oh, yes - I adored The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh as a child, and grew up reading everything I could get my hands on about smugglers!

Lesa said...

I think Disney should re-release that movie, Jayne.