City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

cofjasmine

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Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke never expected to see her husband, adventurer Gabriel Starke, ever again. They had been a golden couple, enjoying a whirlwind courtship amid the backdrop of a glittering social set in pre-war London until his sudden death with the sinking of the Lusitania. Five years later, beginning to embrace life again, Evie embarks upon a flight around the world, collecting fame and admirers along the way. In the midst of her triumphant tour, she is shocked to receive a mysterious — and recent — photograph of Gabriel, which brings her ambitious stunt to a screeching halt.

With her eccentric aunt Dove in tow, Evie tracks the source of the photo to the ancient City of Jasmine, Damascus. There she discovers that nothing is as it seems. Danger lurks at every turn, and at stake is a priceless relic, an artefact once lost to time and so valuable that criminals will stop at nothing to acquire it — even murder. Leaving the jewelled city behind, Evie sets off across the punishing sands of the desert to unearth the truth of Gabriel’s disappearance and retrieve a relic straight from the pages of history.

Along the way, Evie must come to terms with the deception that parted her from Gabriel and the passion that will change her destiny forever…

Publisher and Release date: Mira March 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Constantinople, 1920s
Genre: Historical mystery/adventure/romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Maggi

Famous Aviatrix Evie Starke is planning on a tour of the seven seas, flying her pretty little Sopwith biplane, the Jolly Roger, to stave off series financial troubles, when a recent photograph of her husband, Gabriel, whom she believed to have gone down with the Lusitania, draws her to Damascus. Could Gabriel still be alive? Or is it a hoax?

Raybourn does a great job of balancing humor and danger in City of Jasmine. It’s very different to her Lady Julia Grey mysteries, and although I enjoyed that fabulous series more, I found this novel very entertaining.

City of Jasmine is set in the Middle East at a time of political unrest and social change. When Gabriel appears in the flesh in Evie’s hotel room in Damascus, they are not on good terms. Their brief marriage ended on a decidedly sour note. Gabriel had turned cold and remote towards her before she left him with the intention of divorcing. But this is five years later. Gabriel appears to be no angel, and Evie is disappointed in the man he has become, when as a young man he showed such promise. But the memories of the sweetness of their short time together, and the fact that he could make her pulse jump with a flick of a blue-blue eye, was enough to have her follow him into the dessert to the archaeological dig, where he masquerades as an archaeologist with very odd teeth.

Their story becomes a treasure hunt while they search for a mysterious artefact, which others are prepared to murder to obtain. Evie is determined to find the historical relic, despite danger stalking them at every turn. And between the odd characters and the rather noble, if bloodthirsty Bedouins, it becomes difficult to tell friend from foe.

I found their trudge across the desert a bit longwinded. Despite the quality of the writing, it was not enough to hold my interest, hence the loss of half a star. But the story picks up again with great action and I loved the lively banter between the married couple.

Tough talking, feisty Evie, who is obviously still smitten with the gorgeous, blue-eyed Gabriel, wants to see him return to the man she fell in love with in pre-war London, and spares him not a jot from her tongue lashings.

Evie: “However do you get your upper lip to curl like that? It’s the most wonderful sneer. Do you practice in the mirror?”

And the grumpy, cussing Gabriel, who Evie feels no longer loves her, makes no attempt to explain or defend himself.

Gabriel: “How much did you enjoy pulling that trigger at me?”
Evie: “Less than I expected but more than I should have.”

Evie’s eccentric, parrot loving, Aunt Dove is another great character. More than one mystery is solved by the end. With Peter Pan a metaphor of sorts, references to metaphysical poetry and shades of Lawrence of Arabia, the story is refreshingly different and fabulously researched, the setting a character in itself. I highly recommend this book!

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