Lady Emily and Colin Hargreaves are newly married and on their honeymoon in Constantinople. Soon after the couple's arrival, they become involved in a murder investigation of one of the sultan's concubines. The murder victim turns out to be the long-missing daughter of Sir Richard, a British Embassy official whom they have met on the Orient Express. Sir Richard implores Colin to investigate the murder of his daughter, but since men are not allowed inside the harem, Emily has now been recruited to investigate in an official capacity.
Tears of Pearl, Tasha Alexander's fourth Lady Emily mystery, was a book I looked forward to reading. Even though I found the third book (A Fatal Waltz) disappointing, I was still enamored enough of the first and second book in the series to pre-order this latest installment. Unfortunately, I found little that appealed to me when it came to the main character. Those who have read the third book may recall that Emily was often compared to that paragon of female beauty and intelligence: Countess von Lange, who was essentially a poisonous, adulterous, conceited woman with an air of supreme superiority ... and she was't even funny. If this was the author's way of telling readers what to expect of Emily's future character development, then I should have taken the author seriously and stopped with the third book.
Emily's character is not so far gone as to be completely intolerable in Tears of Pearl, but I found her grating nonetheless. And this starts immediately in the first chapter on the train: her presumptuousness in thinking that people not so much as WANT her help, but essentially NEED her help, this is what she thinks. Even when she tries to be sympathetic to someone, it comes across as condescending rather than compassionate.
Yes, characters can have faults, but the main character must also speak to the reader in a way that we care about them, that their flaws are just that, a flaw, usually redeemed through some of their better judgment and qualities. Why else should we care about them? Why should we be interested at all in their plight, misery, adventure, internal struggles?
Emily has that sense of self-entitlement that comes with being an upper-class woman, that her morals and judgment are superior to those outside her own class, and especially those whose culture are alien to her own. She walks about Constantinople with a degree of self-importance and ignorance. This is fine if it was any other Victorian upper-class woman, but isn't she supposed to be enlightened ... even just a little? Yet I found her to be a woman with little imagination and unwillingness to even TRY to understand how (in this case) women of a different culture do not think as she does. This kind of narrow thinking completely spoils the book.
Then there is her method of investigating and interviewing various persons-of-interest. Again, her ego gets in the way of things; her stubbornness cloud her judgment when she should be reasonable and rational (which is why she often misses the clue). It's the stereotypical female character who cannot control their emotions and revert all too quickly to self-pity. Emily can't seem to help herself; she must air her opinions to all and sundry, even to those inside the harem who are naturally inclined to be secretive and suspicious. Didn't she stop and think, even for a minute, that imposing her top-lofty ideals may get in the way of the greater good---namely solving a murder? I also found it hard to believe that she would approach the sultan (the sultan!) as if he were an equal! This is where her upbringing should come to the forefront: manners, but she lacks those, too. What has happened to this woman? She is about as subtle as a bull in a china shop.
A little sensitivity, a little common sense and---dare I say---a little humility, would go a long, long way, Lady Emily.