London's social season is in full swing, and the Victorian aristocracy can't stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he's not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been making off with precious items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.
Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Emily. But the strong-minded and fiercely independent Emily will not be shaken. It will take all of her considerable wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, even as a brewing scandal threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband's best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.
I had some expectations regarding book 2 of Lady Emily Ashton’s mysteries and I am happy to say that they were fulfilled.
After her love story with her husband in the first book, Lady Emily is now a widow whose main interest is to pursue her Greek studies, to help the British Museum to enlarge their collection of works of art, to spend some time with her chosen friends and to continue her relationship with Colin Hargreaves. I liked this Emily even more than the one in the first book. She is more self-assured, less influenced by others opinions but not naïve to think that she can do as she pleases without following the rules of polite society and understanding the power, and danger, of gossip.
I thought it interesting that the main plot was about a pretender to the throne of France. I could just imagine everyone trying to gain his good graces just in case the monarchy is restored and the Bourbons reclaim their birthright. While society is busy throwing balls in the honor of the supposed French heir, objects known to have belonged to the late Marie Antoinette are being stolen from their rightful owners. When one of the victims of those thefts is found murdered Lady Emily can’t resist starting to investigate. Soon she finds herself studying Marie Antoinette’s letters with as much interest as her Greek and she seems to have acquired a new admirer who keeps invading her house and leaving her little notes.
At the same time, one of Lady Emily’s friends is being forced to marry the supposed French heir, another wants her help with a make believe courtship so her parents will leave her alone, still another is having trouble in her marriage and Lady Emily’s mother is quite decided that she must marry again. All these entanglements lead to some vicious gossip that threatens to harm her place in society.
Besides enjoying Emily as a character, I also really enjoyed her relationship with Colin. He is not always present, in fact, one could say that he is always there when she needs him but he never overwhelms her or her investigations. He respects her intelligence and her resourcefulness and he is determined to woo her and marry her when she feels ready, not before.
I also like how Alexander manages to convey us to the Victorian world. Besides society’s behavior and moral codes, she introduces references like the Baedeker’s Guide, the Rosetta stone, and Thomas Cook & Sons that I found interesting and clever. Not to mention that she actually has Queen Victoria as a secondary character, there is nothing like tea with the queen to restore Lady Emily’s reputation!
The action does progress slowly but I thought that fitted the story very well, a more rushed story could not have such subtle or intellectual references or they would be lost. This was the right pace to appreciate all the details involved.
The mystery part was interesting and surprising but I think the book is mostly about Emily. How can we not enjoy a heroine who spends much of her time in libraries and who reads as much classical literature (Homer) and popular fiction (Mary Elizabeth Braddon) ?