Book Review: The Bishop's Girl by Rebecca Burns

The Bishop's Girl is Rebecca Burns' debut novel and is one of the best historical mysteries I've read this year.

Bishop Anthony Shacklock was killed in France during World War I and buried in the graveyard of a church near the field hospital where he ministered to the injured and dying soldiers. At the end of 1919 when the Bishop’s body is exhumed for re-burial in England, a skeleton wrapped in a canvas bag is found on top of the coffin. The bones are that of a female and DNA tests on a finger bone reveal a familial link to the Bishop. Other than that there are no other clues as to who she was or how she came to be buried in the same grave.

For most of his professional life, Professor Waller has been obsessed with identifying the remains of this unknown female, anticipating the kudos it will bring should he be successful. However, for the past six years the bulk of the research has been carried out by one of his team, Jess Morris. As a result of Waller’s demanding work schedule, her own work is suffering and also her marriage, which is further strained when she has an affair with her friend’s son.

Research has reached a dead end until access to the Bishop’s own archived correspondence provides a lead previously unexplored. Jess, initially on her own and later assisted by her colleague Billy, follows the Bishop’s paper trail from late 19th century Greece to France during World War I. Their research eventually takes them to present day France where they confirm the identity of the skeleton in the Bishop's grave and finally learn how it came to be there.

This is a very intriguing tale, told alternating between the past and the present. From a slow start as Jess and her present day struggles are introduced, it steadily gains momentum as Jess and Billy delve into the past, follow each lead and draw ever closer to revealing the Bishop's secrets and the consequences of his actions on one particular family. This is a story of love, loss and betrayal and the Bishop is not the only one with secrets.

I’m undecided whether I liked the charismatic Bishop. While renowned for his ministerial work, on a personal level he was selfish and a bit of a cad, though he did give some good advice which echoed down the years to Jess’s situation in the present.

The mystery element captured me from the beginning. I love a mystery that keeps me guessing and The Bishop's Girl did just that. I was totally unprepared for the impact of how the skeleton ended up in the Bishop's grave: so sad.

The Bishop's Girl is a brilliant read, cleverly put together and one that I can highly recommend. I'm looking forward to Rebecca Burn's next novel which I'm hoping will be another historical mystery.

Thank you to the author for providing a free review copy.

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