The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781250142818. $26.99. M
Hart moves from the closed world of the early 18th-century China of her “Li Du” novels to the shuttered and locked cabinets of eccentric Barnaby Mayne in early 18th-century London, and the quirky minds of the tight-knit circle of obsessive collectors, among whom Mayne was somewhat of an elder statesman until his untimely demise. While the mystery lies in not just whodunit but why and how it was done, the fascination in this atmospheric story lies with its two offbeat detectives, illustrator-turned-spy Meacan Barlow and her childhood friend, plant collector Cecily Kay. Both women exist on the fringes of the exclusively male world of competitive, combative collectors—which provides them with the knowledge and opportunity to figure out who murdered Mayne before an innocent man goes to the gallows.
VERDICT This glimpse into the intimate circles that will eventually spawn the great museums is highly recommended for historical fiction readers looking for a peek into a fascinating closed society. It is an equally solid choice for historical mystery readers who want to see women with intelligence and agency navigate a time and place not meant for them, but where they thrive nonetheless while solving a delightfully twisty murder. [See Prepub Alert, 11/18/19.]
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