Julian Kestrel Mystery Series Review

The cover that caught my eye

The cover that caught my eye

Sometimes it pays to judge a book by its cover. One day years ago, I was browsing in a nice little independent bookstore in my hometown when my eye was caught by the cover of The Devil in Music, by Kate Ross. I noticed it first because it was illustrated by Kinuko Craft, one of my favorite illustrators, but when the pages decorated by the cover turned out to contain a murder mystery starring a Regency dandy named Julian Kestrel as sleuth (plus: opera!), well, there was no way I wasn’t taking it home!

It was a good choice.

The Julian Kestrel series was cut tragically short when Ross lost a long battle with cancer at the age of just 41, but she left behind four very enjoyable mysteries. I ended up reading them all out of order. The Devil in Music turned out to be the fourth and last book in the series, but I read it first anyway, then I read the second and third, because I had trouble getting a copy of the first. I finally read the first last! This worked out okay because the books are mostly stand-alone, and I might even recommend starting with the fourth, as it might make you less likely to guess the twist. However, I’ll review them in the correct order.

Book 1: Cut To the Quick

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In the first book, Kestrel helps a stranger out of an awkward scrape and is invited to the young man’s country house in gratitude. On a whim, he accepts… only to find a girl lying murdered in his bed. He has an alibi, but his Cockney manservant, Dipper, does not, and Kestrel teams up with a grouchy local doctor to help solve the crime and clear his servant’s name. A very enjoyable debut novel with a well-drawn cast of characters. Though she’s a minor character, I especially loved lively young Philippa. It’s my personal head-canon that she grew up to scandalize society  by marrying Kestrel, and the two of them lived happily ever after.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Book 2: A Broken Vessel

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Dipper’s sister Sally, a prostitute and pickpocket, mistakenly snags a letter containing a young woman’s urgent plea for help. When its author turns up dead, her death is registered as suicide, but Kestrel is convinced the girl was murdered, and his quest to prove it sends him deep into one of Regency England’s darkest underbellies.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

Book 3: Whom The Gods Love

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The weakest of the Kestrel books, in my opinion. It’s still enjoyable enough, but I figured out several of the twists well in advance of Kestrel and it always annoys me when that happens. It makes the sleuth seem dense.

My rating: (3 / 5)

Book 4: The Devil in Music

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If you read the books in the proper order, The Devil in Music will be quite a change of pace, as Kestrel, Dipper, and Dr. McGregor travel to Italy, where they become involved in a cold case: the murder of a nobleman and opera patron four years earlier. It’s my favorite of the series, partially because it sweeps you along in the magic of Italy and opera, but also due to the messy but interesting political situation and the cast, which, like Cut To the Quick, involves a house party of interesting characters and lots of witty repartee.

My rating: (5 / 5)

PS – If you’re curious, here is Orfeo’s favorite aria: Dalla sua pace (My peace depends on hers), from Mozart’s Don Giovanni:



  1. Joyes Burris says:

    How refreshing to stumble on your website deep into a google search looking for anyone, beside Amazon readers, who has read Kate Ross’s mystery series. I have explored your site and am astonished how selections, your views and your attention to detail match my own! Harry Potter, ditto. Julian Kestrel, ditto!!! To Marry an English Lord Book Review, been there (have a recommendation for you, but not at my fingertips right now). Presume you are a fan of Downton Abbey; me too, from the first episode way before it became “the thing” — the first two seasons I could not find anybody to discuss it with. You like John Denver and Michael Ball; so do I, I just bought a MBall cd last week. … It was esp spooky to read that you picked up the Julian Kestrel book because of the cover illustration because you like the artist Kinuko Craft. When I read that, I actually knew who you were referring to because Kinuko also illustrated covers for Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries, which covers are so beautiful I looked up the artist a few years ago. I’m sure there are more points where we are in agreement but I won’t drag this out. I do wish to recommend to you, if you have not tried it yet, Anthony Trollope. In my over 65 years I had never read a single Trollope. After I viewed the BBC dramatization of The Barchester Chronicles, which I know you will appreciate, I decided to read the entire series (sometimes I cheated and listened to Librivox audio books online before bed). … And you appreciate Jane Austen. You must be perfect. For a number of years I was the editor/publisher of the quarterly newsletter for our local Jane Austen Society (NorCal – JASNA.org). Thank you for allowing me to introduce myself. joyesb

    • Thank you for stopping by, Joyes. Our tastes do sound remarkably similar! I have never read Trollope, so thank you for the recommendation! I’ll add him to my list.


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