Fiona Buckley’s Ursula Blanchard Series

I always look forward to the Amherst League of Women Voters book sale — a whole gymnasium filled with good books for not much in a town with a lot of readers.

I stocked up on my guilty pleasure, Robert B. Parker detective stories, and picked up some Lillian Jackson Braun “Cat Who” books for my daughter. I also took a flyer on a book by Fiona Buckley called “To Ruin a Queen” which turns out to be one of a long series about England and France in the time of Elizabeth I starring a reluctant lady detective named Ursula Blanchard.

The book I found is the fourth in the series, and now I’m going to have to find the others, because Buckley, whose real name is Valerie Anand, is a really good writer. She’s very knowledgeable about Elizabethan England and she creates very believable and engaging characters.

In the book I read we meet Lady Thomasine, a middle-aged dowager countess with a penchant for young lovers including Rafe the randy minstrel.

Also, Ursula and her trusty manservant Brockley (that’s his actual name) rescue Gladys the toothless crone from angry villagers who are about to stone her for witchcraft.

We later get to know Gladys, and she’s a riot. She confesses that after she lost her looks and her kids moved away, and the village children started taunting her, she actually got a kick out of frightening them.

“Then one of the nasty little creatures climbed a tree and fell out and broke his arm and I told his mother that he jeered at me, and this was what came to them as did that. Next thing I knew, the silly girls took to slinking to my cottage after dark, wanting love potions.”

She knew something about herbs, and gave them potions that wouldn’t do much harm “beyond a touch of the trots, maybe” and she figures that slipping the potions into some lad’s ale gave them confidence. “Half the battle, that is, for a girl — makin’ the man notice she’s there.”

Suffice to say, if you ever get the chance to rescue a witch, definitely do it; you’ll be glad you did.

Elizabeth appears in the book , too, very sensitively portrayed as a woman who has never had a family. Her father had her mother killed, of course, which left her terribly alone, except for her studies in Latin, Greek and history. Ursula resolves to take up this kind of scholarship in middle age so she doesn’t end up like Lady Thomasine.