Ross, Kate 1956–1998
Ross, Kate 1956–1998
PERSONAL: Born 1956; died of cancer March 12, 1998, in Boston, MA; daughter of Edward A. Ross. Education: Wellesley College, graduated; Yale University Law School, J.D.
CAREER: Attorney and writer. Sullivan & Worcester (law firm), Boston, MA, associate attorney until 1981.
AWARDS, HONORS: Gargoyle Award, 1994, for A Broken Vessel.
"JULIAN KESTREL" SERIES
Cut to the Quick, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
A Broken Vessel, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Whom the Gods Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
The Devil in the Music, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Short fiction anthologized in Crime through Time, 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Kate Ross, a former attorney, also authored a series of popular historical mysteries until her death in 1998. Set in the early 1800s, her fiction features Julian Kestrel, an English dandy and man-about-town who also solves crimes. In Ross's 1993 debut, Cut to the Quick, Kestrel becomes involved in a murder mystery when a dead woman is found in his bed while he is visiting a country estate as a guest at a wedding. No one in the house admits to knowing who the woman is or why she was murdered, but suspicion soon falls on Kestrel's valet, Dipper, who was once a pickpocket. In defense of his valet, Kestrel sets out to solve the mystery and clear Dipper's name.
A Publishers Weekly contributor noted in an appraisal of Cut to the Quick that if Ross can "learn how to smoothly integrate" the genres of Regency and mystery, "she could earn a loyal audience." Writing on MysteryGuide.com, a more enthusiastic reviewer commented that the story "maintains a smooth and graceful pace throughout, helped along by a remarkably elegant prose style which manages to capture both the strength and lightness of touch so admired in the Regency era."
A Broken Vessel finds Kestrel involved in the seamier side of London life when he teams up with Sally Stokes, a prostitute and sister of Kestrel's valet Dipper, to investigate a suspicious suicide. The initial leads are supplied by Stokes, who in picking her clients' pockets, comes across a letter from an upper-class woman who has fallen on hard times and finds herself in a Reclamation Society house for fallen women. As Kestrel and Stokes delve into the supposed suicide of one of the residents of this women's shelter, they uncover the secrets of several upper-class gentleman that place them in severe danger. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented that "Ross briskly explores the sordid underbelly of the Regency period with sharply etched characters, authentic slang and a smartly intricate plot sweetened by a fetching an unusual love story."
In Whom the Gods Love Ross's amateur detective investigates the murder of Alexander Falkland, a London society favorite. When Kestrel begins to investigate Falkland's death by bludgeoning with a fireplace poker, he discovers that the man was more complicated than he seemed on the surface. Writing in Booklist, Emily Melton called Ross "a force to be reckoned with when it comes to historical mysteries," while a Publishers Weekly contributor added that, "offering this level of entertainment, her dandyish sleuth will never go out of fashion." A contributor to the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers noted that Whom the Gods Love "features the most complex plot and most consistently suspenseful chapter endings of the series so far."
Working on what would be her final novel in the "Kestrel" series while battling cancer, Ross produced The Devil in the Music. This time, Kestrel finds himself in Italy investigating the four-year-old death of Lodovico Malvezzi, a marquis who loved music and, at the time of his death, was grooming a young English singer named Orfeo for a career in the opera. Orfeo disappeared the night of Malvezzi's death, and Kestrel, accompanied by trusty valet Dipper and friend Dr. Duncan MacGregor, sets out to find Orfeo and solve the mystery. Marilyn Stasio noted in the New York Times Book Review that while "this is all very diverting … it just isn't much of a mystery." Writing in the Library Journal, Jan Blodgett commented, "While the plotting is not as tight as in previous novels, the final chapters are replete with enough revelations and twists to please Ross's fans." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Ross "adeptly fashions a mystery from lethal family secrets, political strife, passion for great music and an opulent early 19th-century setting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, June 1, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Whom the Gods Love, p. 1736.
Library Journal, August, 1997, Jan Blodgett, review of The Devil in the Music, p. 140.
New York Times Book Review, September 7, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Devil in the Music, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, January 11, 1993, review of Cut to the Quick, p. 56; March 7, 1994, review of A Broken Vessel, p. 57; April 17, 1995, review of Whom the Gods Love, p. 42; July 14, 1997, review of The Devil in the Music, p. 67.
Italian-Mysteries.com, http://italian-mysteries.com/ (February 25, 2005), review of The Devil in the Music.
MysteryGuide.com, http://www.mysterygude.com/ (February 25, 2005), reviews of Cut to the Quick and The Devil in the Music.
Boston Globe, March 16, 1998, p. B5.