August 04, 2020

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

By Elsa Hart
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If The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne doesn’t grab you with the title alone, are you sure you’re a mystery fan?

Cecily Kay has come to the London home of the titular collector, hoping to definitively identify some plants by comparing them to specimens in Barnaby Mayne’s Plant Room, by far the least exciting of his voluminous collections. When Mayne is stabbed to death and a meek man confesses, Cecily smells a rat and uses her analytical abilities to piece together the truth. To find out what really happened, she must dive into the realm of collectors, whose interests often spill over into obsession.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Elsa Hart explains why the world of Englightenment-era collectors is the perfect setting for a mystery.

This is a note-perfect whodunit, and even if Mayne went about his business unmolested it would still be a deliciously creepy novel. Author Elsa Hart (Jade Dragon Mountain) has great fun with the time period—it’s set in 1703—and the complications of science and fact running headlong into mythology and occult beliefs. For a passionate collector, having their life’s work housed in an established and esteemed collection after death conferred a kind of immortality. But some collectors sought a quicker path to power through rituals and rites. High society and the secret societies within make a terrific backdrop for a story that often hinges on the ways women are presumed unimportant, thus allowing them to explore and find evidence while going undetected.

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