A Crimson Warning: A Lady Emily Mystery Hardcover – Oct 25 2011
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Praise for Tasha Alexander:
“Author Tasha Alexander is one to watch—and read. . . . despite her cliffhanger climaxes and witty repartee, there's a depth of sensitivity which sets her apart.”—The Huffington Post on Dangerous to Know
“With wisps of darkness, shadows of a ghost story and embers of heightened Freudian themes, Dangerous to Know is the perfect novel to curl up with and chase away the world.”—Examiner.com
“Infused with wit and charm, with just the right amounts of danger, romance and detection blended in.”—Denver Post on Tears of Pearl
“[Tears of Pearl] will please readers of Anne Perry, Laurie R. King, and Deanna Raybourn seeking a new fan-favorite author.”—Library Journal on Tears of Pearl
“A thoroughly enjoyable adventure with both historical texture and emotional depth.”—Anne Perry, New York Times bestselling author on A Fatal Waltz
“Alexander’s sweetly choreographed plot dances between her wonderfully drawn sleuth, Lady Ashton, and Victorian high society.”—Julie Spencer-Fleming, Edgar Award finalist and author of All Mortal Flesh on A Poisoned Season
“Alexander excels in depicting the social mores of a society uncomfortable with the independence of women, and deftly allows the plot to develop in tandem with Emily’s growth.”—The Baltimore Sun on And Only to Deceive
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I suppose if we're going to call anyone a copycat, it must be noted that Alexander's book came out first, but each series has its own special personality and flair and a reader can enjoy both, without feeling that one is imitative of the other. That said, I must confess that I was on Team Lady Julia as to which series I preferred, but I'm switching. The more books written in each series, the less I am admiring Lady Julia's character, personality and behaviour and the more admiring I am of Lady Emily. She has become an admirable woman, an amateur sleuth and scholar (with studies of ancient artifacts, Greek, and Latin) without losing her dignity, common sense and with her behaviour as much in line with Victorian times as an independent thinking woman's can be.
In this entry, someone is disturbing Victorian peerage's peace of mind by splashing red paint on various houses and threatening to reveal secrets and scandals of those living within. When someone ends up murdered, everyone is worried not just that their secrets may be revealed but that their lives may be in danger.
So...Lady Emily and her spy husband to the rescue. This is a darned good story, well paced, with excellent dialogue, well-written characters, and a few red herrings so as not to guess whodunit too soon, all set in a well-researched England of the late 1800s. All in all, a very good read. Go Team Lady Emily!
By comparison, I find Alexander's characters superficial as tin foil, especially Lady Emily whose most daring deviation from the norm is to drink port (she spends an inordinate amount of time drinking something or another). She isn't clever, she's a bull in a china shop, whose insistent clumsiness often gets people killed. I find her merely self absorbed and not the least endearing.
Least satisfying is the author's lack of ability to take the many fragments of her stories and piece them into a coherent whole. Occasionally she comes up with a clever device (after the fashion of Dan Brown), but she simply lacks the ability to weave it into the story effectively. I spend most of my time with Alexander's books marking up the margins with outraged commentary on the general incoherence of the plotting, the superficiality of the characters and research, the ridiculous, often incongruous dialogue...and I could go on, but I don't care to become cruel. I do, after all, keep reading them.
They're light, they're fluff, they have exotic locations, everyone's rich, the women wear pretty dresses. I suppose I'll have to call them, for me, a guilty pleasure. Although the pleasure is less and less, and I think this will be the end of my sojourn with Lady Emily. I stayed with her hoping perhaps that the characters would grow a little, that the author might develop in her skills, but this hasn't happened, and I'm exhausted with the effort I put into these books trying to rewrite them to my own satisfaction.
I would wind up my journey with Lady Emily by pointing out to those who may be thinking of peeking into her world, that these books are surely for younger, less demanding readers (who seem very generous with their stars). If you're looking for something that only requires a small portion of your brain, this is the ticket. If you want something with wit and sophistication, something challenging, go to the originals (Elizabeth Peters, Anne Perry). Or try Ian Pears' Flavia and Argyle series, which is a true delight, and, again, is written by someone who actually finished college and is capable of some depth in his topic as opposed to simply name dropping the occasional artist and thinking that makes her sound learned.
Lady Emily is anticipating the delights of the season: the balls, her involvement in lobbying for the right to vote, and, of course, time with her favorite Greek books. At one of the season's first events, Lady Emily is happily dancing away the evening with her husband Colin, looking for an opportunity to sneak out so they can spend some time alone when a fight breaks out among two men. It turns out that an affair has been exposed, and they are arguing over ladies at the party. Suddenly, Colin, an agent of the crown, is called away on urgent business. Emily heads home with friends to discuss the eventful evening. When Colin arrives, it is with sad news: a well-known businessman has been murdered. His fiancée is devastated, but it's when she starts receiving threatening notes from the person who claims to have killed her soon-to-be husband that Emily and Colin start investigating.
Days later, red paint is found splashed on the homes of some of London's most well-to-do. The paint is a warning, and secrets are revealed shortly after, leaving some in London to revel in the disclosures, and others to fear for their lives and what will be revealed about them. When two of society's ladies are kidnapped, the season that held so much promise for fun is now filled with fear.
Lady Emily is far from the standard lady of the day. While she enjoys the pleasures of the season, it's her work lobbying for a woman's right to vote that riles her mother, a more straightforward Victorian lady, to no end. She's also smart and extremely well-educated, which keeps her highly active in her husband's affairs with the crown. And he's willing to keep her involved even when others think he's wrong to do so. Their relationship is certainly more open than most at the time, which is one of the reasons this novel is fun. There is also romance here, but it's not overwhelming and blends in nicely with the story. As a non-romance reader, I was slightly worried that it would overtake the plot, so I was happily surprised with the balance that was struck.
While I loved Colin and Lady Emily's investigation, what I enjoyed even more was the setting. Tasha Alexander does a wonderful job with the details, creating interesting ladies and a picture of Victorian England that is easy to be swept up in. I do wish Lady Emily's mother played a larger role here --- she was quite the interesting character and obviously one very different from Emily. It would have been fun to see more of their interactions.
As a reader of many historical fiction titles, this is one author I'll be returning to for a dose of fun mixed with a great historical setting. She does a fantastic job of weaving together interesting characters with a mystery to keep you wondering what secrets are buried deep in the closets of high society. If you like a little mystery mixed with your historical fiction, Tasha Alexander will not disappoint.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski
Michael's grieving fiancée Cordelia tells Colin that an unknown vandal threw red paint on his door. The family of Polly Sanders, the latest scandalous lineage rumor of the Ton, also is a victim of the red paint scoundrel. Other aristocratic families face the same paint assault followed by a shocking disclosure. That humiliates the victims. Emily wants to help her husband with the cases, but fears the sadistic culprit will paint her with a scarlet letter.
The sixth Lady Emily late Victorian mystery (see Dangerous to Know) is a wonderful period piece as the Ton suddenly live in fear of an unknown predator who gleefully exposes skeletal secrets. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that Colin leaves the ball in Mayfair and never slows down as Tasha Alexander provides a profound exhilarating historical with contemporary implications in which the ends justify the means.