On A Desert Shore


Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiress—daughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican property—is no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.

John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victim—or is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.

Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the façade of propriety masks danger.

To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, reveal a clever killer.

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

“Fans of traditional whodunits with a closed circle of suspects will enjoy Rizzolo’s fourth historical featuring savvy Bow Street Runner John Chase.”
Publishers Weekly, Jan. 11, 2016

“This fourth outing for Chase (Die I Will Not, 2014, etc.) blends thwarted love, class and racial issues, partly convincing historical details, and solid sleuthing.”
Kirkus Reviews

“I have a fondness for novels that not only present a solid story, but also tackle a social issue without being preachy. ‘On a Desert Shore’ has that, and more!”
Back Porchervations

“An engrossing fourth historical adventure.”
Library Journal, Feb. 1, 2016

“Rizzolo just keeps writing better and better.”
—Erin Al-Mehairi, Oh, for the Hook of a Book

“I so enjoyed being back in the company of Penelope, John and Edward and it’s their personal stories that really draw me in with the crimes they work on being the icing on the cake.”
—Lelia Taylor, Buried Under Books, March 2016

“Fans of traditional whodunits with a closed circle of suspects will enjoy Rizzolo’s fourth historical featuring savvy Bow Street Runner John Chase (after 2014’s Die I Will Not). When Chase was defending the British Empire in the West Indies in 1796, he almost lost his life to yellow fever. A local healer, Joanna, restored him to health. In London 17 years later, he has occasion to help Joanna’s daughter, Marina, whose merchant father, Hugo Garrod, made his fortune in the Caribbean, but he has raised her in England. Garrod is afraid that someone is playing cruel tricks on Marina, leading her to fear she’s cursed, and he hires Chase to get to keep an eye on her. The case ends up being one of murder after several people are poisoned. Chase is aided in his search for the truth by two other well-limned characters, barrister Edward Buckler and writer Penelope Wolfe. Rizzolo nicely evokes the period, but the book works better as a classic murder puzzle than as a probing look at Regency England.”
Publishers Weekly

“Bow Street runner John Chase is hired to protect a young heiress from Jamaica, and Mrs. Penelope Wolfe is engaged to live in the woman’s household as an added layer of protection. Together, they must work to uncover a ruthless and diabolical killer. An engrossing fourth historical adventure (after Die I Will Not).”

“As I’m sure anyone might realize by now, I love all types of mysteries and many times historical mysteries. On a Desert Shore is the fourth book by S.K. Rizzolo in her John Chase/Penelope Wolfe Regency Mystery Series and I’ve loved all the other books. Rizzolo’s mysteries are to me those for a very intelligent type of mystery reader, not the cozy type. In each book, she increasingly takes on tougher social issues of the day with her characters.

Taking place in the early part of the 19th Century, during the Georgian era in London, Bow Street Runner John Chase is tasked with protecting an heiress of a wealthy merchant, yet her mother is a slave from the Jamaican Island, which causes issues of acceptance. She was to marry and be in good social standing, but when it doesn’t work she is sent to live with the family of Hugo Garrod. Strange occurrences begin and Chase begins to wonder who is at fault? The heiress or outside forces against her? Penelope, at the moment employed by Garrod due to her use of her pen, also gets involved and together with Chase they work to solve the case.

I think the original and admirable theme underlying this particular mystery is Rizzolo taking on the prejudice of Londoners when slavery was the great moral question of the time. Using the character of Marina, daughter to her father’s slave, Rizzolo showcased how nobility asserted their control over others, even as the walls of slavery and racism were trying to be torn down. Her parallel to American society and the issues we still struggle with today are very evident. Do we ever learn? Her underlying message of what occurs when we try to mold people into something we want or desire took shape and made me ponder how our society still implies that differences in people aren’t acceptable.

Her characterization, as always, is well-done so that you can visualize and feel the emotions of many of the characters. It was entertaining to see John and Penelope again and watch them as they piece together the puzzle. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow and change with each book, even though you don’t have to read them all to enjoy one of the books. With twists and turn, and clever dialogue and description, the mystery is plotted with excellent thought.

Rizzolo truly allowed Marina to come off the page as the story read on and we begin to pull for her to find her place based on her internal respect for herself and her personal strength. I felt connected to Marina in ways that allowed me to see the story partially through her eyes.

Educated prose, social warnings, and a solid who-dun-it should have you buying this book for its unique historical undertaking of an issue that assaults us still 200 years later. The historical accuracies of the time she peppered into her novel about the Jamaican and West Indies people, and their migration to England or use by English nobles, was very interesting and not a common theme that you see in any other historical fiction or mystery novels. She’s obviously done her research and put in extra effort surrounding this plot. It’s highly discernable that she cared to get the characters and their historical accuracy for the time period and situation as correct as possible.

I highly recommend On a Desert Shore to readers who enjoy smart and interesting topics surrounding their mystery. I enjoyed spending some time getting immersed into this book over a weekend, but most importantly, with this book, she gives us quite a bit to think about as well. Rizzolo just keeps writing better and better.”
—Erin Al-Mehairi, Oh, for the Hook of a Book, Mar. 8, 2016

“A Bow Street Runner helps solve a murder at a manor in this Regency tale. John Chase’s 20-year career in the Royal Navy ended at the Battle of the Nile when he took a bullet to the knee. Now that he works for Bow Street, he’s hired for the personal protection of sugar planter Hugo Garrod. After making a fortune in Jamaica, Garrod brought his mixed-race daughter, Marina, to a lavish estate in Clapham with the idea of marrying her to his possible heir, his wastrel nephew Ned Honeycutt. Instead he gave Marina a London debut that disappointingly ended without a proposal, and now Honeycutt may be a marital candidate after all. Someone’s trying to frighten Marina with chicken bones and grave dirt, tokens she knew about from her mother, one of Garrod’s former slaves and a practitioner of a native religion. But Marina’s mother, with whom Chase has his own connection, is far away. When he comes to Garrod’s manor, he sees that Marina is very vulnerable, given to sleepwalking, frequently dosed with laudanum, and surrounded by her father’s unwelcoming family. Chase, who feels like an outsider himself, is glad to have his friends as fellow houseguests: melancholic barrister Edward Buckle, resourceful pamphleteer Mrs. Penelope Wolf, and her illegitimate half brother, who’s instantly smitten with Marina. At a lavish reception, the host serves tea that makes him, Honeycutt’s sister, and the estate’s vicar violently ill. Garrod begs Buckler to rewrite his will but dies before the barrister can help, leaving Chase, Buckler, and Penelope with a temporarily missing key, an unlabeled bottle, and West Indian seed-pod beads as the only evidence of who stood the benefit the most from Garrod’s death. This fourth outing for Chase (Die I Will Not, 2014, etc.) blends thwarted love, class and racial issues, partly convincing historical details, and solid sleuthing.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS, Jan. 1, 2016

“Back in November of 2014, I was given the chance to read and review the three previous John Chase Mysteries (The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, Die I Will Not). So I was eager to find more adventures of Chase, Wolfe and Buckler. I am pleased to say that they return full force in ‘On a Desert Shore’!

Penelope Wolfe’s life is as topsy-turvy as ever. Luckily, she is a resilient woman. Her on-again, off-again pseudo-husband has finally left, and once again Penelope must find a way to support herself. Taking up the pen, she sets the societal social machine running on whether or not writing is a ‘proper’ job for a woman. This employment takes her into Hugo Garrod’s household, where Marina also resides, and brings her into contact once more with John Chase.

This detecting duo have worked well together before, which is a good thing, because apparently someone is trying to harm Marina. Some of the attacks seem to have an Obeah flavor, which was part of Marina’s heritage.

Marina is an interesting character. Some might say lucky. Most children of a master-slave relationship were not invited into the father’s household. But, in so doing, this exposed her to London Society, which can be unkind even to people who are not illegitimate or black or have a non-English parent. The exclusion of one group by another based on that the former is ‘not like us, not good enough for us’ strikes a huge chord with me. Frankly, it makes me angry. Makes me want to go to Ascot and holler in my best Cockney accent, “C’mon Dover, move your bloomin’ a$$!” (Yes, that’s a My Fair Lady’ reference. But then, Eliza and Marina have more than a few things in common.)

I have a fondness for novels that not only present a solid story, but also tackle a social issue without being preachy. ‘On a Desert Shore’ has that, and more! The variety of plots infused into the John Chase Mysteries by Ms. Rizzolo continues to amaze me! And even though this is the fourth book in the series, it can be read as a standalone. The author has given the correct mix of providing some background to bring new readers up to speed while not overdoing it, allowing returning fans to review the previous books quickly and hit the ground running.

While society would gladly grind Marina into a fine powder under their heels, and mail her back to her father, it is doubtful they would resort to murder in order to remove an ‘unacceptable’ person from their ranks.

I raise my cup of coffee and drink a toast to the health and long life of John Chase, Penelope Wolfe and Edward Buckler!”
Back Porchervations, Mar. 11, 2016

“I’ve been trying for many years to figure out why the Regency period appeals to me so much in both historical fiction and mysteries (and real history) but I can’t quite put my finger on it. My attraction to the era comes and goes; back in my 20’s (the dark ages), I was really into Regency historical fiction, then I fell off, then I went back to those and mysteries, then I fell off again and now I’m back once more. It seems I can’t stay away but I do know that part of my liking for it is a deep-seated love of American history and this period was certainly important to the left side of the pond.

Anyhoo, there are particular authors that I can always count on to carry me away to the Regency and S.K. Rizzolo is one of them, without fail. I love the history of the Bow Street Runners, the beginnings of London’s police, and John Chase really brings the Runners to life. Having to cope with two distinctly different cultures in his latest case brings out the best in him, piquing his natural-born curiosity and his (perhaps) unusual intelligence. When Hugo Garrod engages Penelope Wolfe to interview him for a magazine piece at the estate, she goes against the best advice of her dear friend Edward Buckler because she is in real need of income since her ne’er-do-well husband abandoned her. It’s only natural for Chase to accept her help in finding the culprit behind the malicious events surrounding Marina, given their successful collaborations in the past, and Edward finds it impossible to remain uninvolved.

A highlight of this series is the attention the author pays to various social issues of the day and in this book she tackles the British feelings regarding slavery and racism, specifically bringing it out in the story of a biracial daughter of a wealthy British merchant and his determination to introduce her to society. That girl, Marina, comes into her own during this very stressful time but what exactly is causing her so much difficulty in the rarified world of British society if not the facts of her birth?

I so enjoyed being back in the company of Penelope, John and Edward and it’s their personal stories that really draw me in with the crimes they work on being the icing on the cake. The ways they find to get to whatever truths are eluding them are entertaining and sometimes inspiring and, once again, Ms. Rizzolo takes us along for a delightful journey. The last few sentences leave the reader wanting more and I really wish I could twitch my nose and bring that fifth book into being right now ;-)”
—Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, Buried Under Books, March 2016

“On a Desert Shore by S.K. Rizzolo reminded me of a Georgette Heyer novel. Suspense, family secrets, and murder. Fourth in the John Chase/Penelope Wolfe Regency Mystery Series which has John and Penelope together again. John is hired by Hugo Garrod to find out who is tormenting his mixed blood Jamaican-born daughter Marina. Penelope goes to stay in the household as added security.

Not long after, poison is added to the sugar used for tea. Someone put poison in the expensive sugar that was kept in a teapoy. (An aside, did you know that granulated sugar was not a thing back in Regency times? I also learned a new word, teapoy, a small three-legged table or stand, especially one that holds a tea caddy). The key to this teapoy has gone missing which made it easy to poison the sugar by someone in the household.

Tea is served, anyone who used the sugar became extremely ill including Hugo Garrod. He eventually dies and now the race is on to find the killer. John and Penelope believe that it is someone in the household and Hugo’s family believes it is the illegitimate daughter Marina.

Strange occurrences continue, all leading towards Marina’s guilt. John must figure out who among the many suspects, would benefit mostly from Mr.Garrod’s demise. Underlying issues include slavery, prejudice and its impact on people of mixed color from another country such as Jamaica. Fortunately, in this time, there were some laws to protect those of mixed color.

I enjoy these types of mysteries, always a good story to them. Unfortunately, I have not read the first three in the series so some of the back stories of John and Penelope were not known to me. The reference to John’s son Jonathan had me stumped also. None of this detracted from me enjoying the book, though. If you love a Regency type historical mystery, then give this series a try!”
Celtic Lady’s Reviews

“Opening a book can be therapeutic. Sometimes, it is merely a way to pass the time. Other times, I feel like books take me to another world. Such was the case with my most recent read, On a Desert Shore by S. K. Rizzolo. We were traveling and I figured a book would keep me occupied for a bit, but I ended up finishing it in one day and very much enjoying the story.

On a Desert Shore appears to be the fourth in a series and bounces back and forth between three people’s point of view. As I have not read the rest of the books, I am not sure which characters are in them, other than John Chase and Penelope Wolfe. John Chase is a member of the infamous Bow Street Runners, a police force of sorts in the underworld of London. He is not a young man and carries a cane because of a knee injury, but his mind is as agile as can be, making him a man worth his pay. This time he is hired to bodyguard the daughter of a wealthy man, Hugo Garrod, who is worried about her mind. People seem to be playing pranks on her, maybe even endangering her body, but could she be doing them to herself for the attention? Chase must figure out before things turn deadly!

Mrs. Penelope Wolfe was somewhat hard to read. She married young, has a little girl of her own and a wandering husband, but is also mixed up with Barrister Edward Buckler. She definitely has a mind of her own. When a wealthy gentleman, Hugo Garrod, invites her to his home to pen an article about himself, she feels uncomfortable and is warned more than once to be careful by Chase and Buckler. Needless to say, they are all drawn into a mystery involving Jamaican curses, healers and poisoned sugar cubes, plus a woman from John’s past.

There were a few swear words and a kissing scene but nothing major. This one will be getting added to my library and awaiting the other books in the series!”

“Hardcover, so very thoughtfully and kindly sent to me by the author and by her publisher. Thank you!”

“I have never in real life met S.K. Rizzolo, but she is a member of a group I belong to on goodreads. I had heard of her work, of course, but when I spoke to someone named “SK” for the first time in the group, I had absolutely no idea that that “SK” was the author S.K. Rizzolo. Then at some point the light bulb over my head flashed on and I put two and two together. So, when she emailed some months back and said she had x amount of copies of this book, her latest in this series, to give away at her discretion and asked if I would like one, I was beyond honored.

It’s true that I don’t normally find myself reading crime novels with a romantic edge to them; au contraire, I seem to be on a steady diet of dark, no-frills, edgy, psychological, existentialist-bent, noirish, largely obscure and downright gritty, no-holds barred (but always well written!) crime fiction. So, after having read several of these for a while, after having finished some even darker books that I’ve posted about on my page and some even more horrific (because they’re true) , I figured it was time to give the old, tired, and probably by-now warped brain a rest. What better way than to relax with some light historical crime fiction? As I was looking forward to a restorative, ahhhh-this-is-going-to-be-just-what-the-doctor-ordered kind of novel, — surprise! It turns out that Ms. Rizzolo isn’t all sunshine and light: On a Desert Shore picks up some definite Gothic tones, there is an horrific crime at the heart of this book, and if that’s not enough, there is also the issue of slavery that she weaves most deftly into her tale.

In a nutshell, and just to whet appetites, this novel begins in Jamaica in 1796, with a very ill Lt. John Chase of the Royal Navy coming out of his feverish delirium. He had been nursed through the illness that had killed a number of others by a slave named Joanna, leaving him extremely grateful to her for saving his life. Chase eventually goes back to work for the navy, but suffers a sidelining injury. Once again recuperating, this time in Naples, he returns to England where he is offered work in Bow Street, to “stick a plug here and there in the crime that flowed through the city.” Now, flash forward to 1813 — Chase has been offered a job looking after the daughter of a very wealthy English merchant, Hugo Garrod, in the face of some strange events that have been occurring at their home. Hugo is also the owner of a Caribbean plantation where, unfortunately, slavery still exists. His daughter, in fact, was born to a slave mother, who turns out to be the very same Joanna who helped Chase pull through his near-fatal illness. Because Chase was never able to thank Joanna, and has always felt a great deal of gratitude toward her, he agrees to take the job. However, before he can get to the root of the strange happenings surrounding Marina Goddard, there is a fatal poisoning at the Goddard home. As the evidence begins to mount, Chase and his friends begin to realize that it all points toward the lovely Marina, but all of them are positive that she has played no part in the tragedy. Chase and the others find themselves working against time and against the cascading tide of events to prove her innocence before she faces a terrible fate.Yes, there are a few sweetish sort of romantic spots in this book, but seriously, to her credit unlike many authors I’ve read, this one keeps them to a minimum; no bodice ripping here. The story focuses way more on the crime, on the characters, on London itself, and then there’s the issue of slavery. Despite having never read any of the books in the series that come before this one, I became quite attached to the characters in this book — all of them flawed with sad or unique circumstances to overcome, making me wish I’d read the other novels. My personal favorite: Marina Garrod, whose Jamaican roots come back to haunt her, who had been brought to London by her father to give her a good life in a free country and to be raised among other young women of her class and status. She reminded me so much of another woman I’d read about from the same sort of circumstances, the very real , who had much the same sort of experience in her time. Despite the fact that the slave trade in the British colonies had been officially abolished in 1807, slavery still existed there, and there’s a wonderful scene in this book that brings home how some of the products (in this case, sugar) used in the Garrod household continued to be slave produced. Then there’s the Gothic aspect of this book — I could tell by reading that the author absolutely must be a huge fan of the genre, especially toward the end, when it reminded me so very much of events in Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White. I couldn’t help myself — my heart was pounding hoping the heroine would be rescued in time, just as I do when I’m engaged in any Gothic novel. There’s also the incorporation of the exotic — obeah — that I just loved. I want to say that some of the writing also brought back mental flashes of old books my mom used to read and had laying around the house by Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt, stuff I just devoured as a preteen kid. That was a happy memory — thanks!

It may be a long while before I read something like this again, but I had a great time with this book. And, as it turned out, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.”
—posted by NancyO, The Crime Segments