Morrow, Mar 2001, 24.00, 368 pp.
In 1699, Countess Ashby de la Zouche reflects on how far she has fallen. Only fifteen years have passed since her lover King Charles II died and now under the Dutch ruler she is doing time in Fleet Prison for owing money to a druggist. The countess realizes her only passage to freedom is selling gossip. She finds a gem with a high society marriage here in the prison. However, her former servant Alpiew, also a resident of Fleet, uses sex to attain the same information, but sells the juicy item to printers Mr. and Mrs. Cue first. Alpiew is freed, but quickly realizes she needs an address if she is to have the gossip reporter job. She returns to buy the Countess' freedom.
The duo agrees to form a partnership of mistrust, as Ashby believes Alpiew stole her husband years ago. Cue sends them a client who hires them to follow her cheating spouse. They trail the merchant Beau Wilson, but someone kills him and the two sleuths begin inquiries into a deadlier game where they can become the victims.
UNNATURAL FIRE is an entertaining historical mystery that is fun to read because of the depth of background material is neatly interwoven into the plot. Readers will love or hate the lead couple, but regardless of that fact, they will remain drawn into following their antics. The support cast provides layers of complexity and the feeling that the audience is watching a late seventeenth century movie unfold due to the richness of the text. Fidelis Morgan has written a ribald historical where any moment this reviewer expects Fielding's Tom Jones to aid the amateur sleuths.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner