Tag Archive | mystery

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Surrendering the Past (The Granville Legacy Series Book 1) by Pamela Lynne

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In a world of honor and obligation, falling in love can be a dangerous game. Captain Richard Granville has returned to London after serving the Crown in perilous missions fighting Napoleon’s army. Bone weary and distrustful of all around him, the captivating Jane Dawson awakens his long dormant desire for more than a solitary existence. When he learns she is betrothed to his father, the conniving and dangerous Earl of Litchfield, shadows of the past descend upon Richard, bringing along memories of a tortuous childhood and his failure to protect the person he had loved most.

Jane Dawson would pay any price to renew her family’s happiness, but is the cost of marrying Lord Litchfield too high? A woman of virtue and honor, she cannot break a promise once given, especially when doing so would ruin those she seeks to protect. But can she ignore the connection she feels to the wild soldier who understands both her duty and her heart?

Follow the men of the Granville family in this suspenseful Regency romance series as they discover that their family legacy is much darker than they realized, and that the future holds treasures they can only grasp by surrendering the past.

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EXCERPT

The short walk to Litchfield House served to be enough to numb the gentlemen in both body and spirit. The cold wind whipped around and through them, preparing them for the chill they were likely to find inside that evening. The convivial spirit the two enjoyed earlier was gone as each prepared to thwart whatever Lord Litchfield’s machinations would be. Though Richard was sure the evening would bring news of his brother’s betrothal, his father would never miss the chance to manipulate all those around him, even if only for his own amusement.

As they entered, a shrill, cackling laugh descended upon them, greeting them in much the same way the wind had earlier. The butler did not react to the sound as he took their outwear and handed them to a footman.

Richard raised his eyebrows and turned to Julian as they descended the steps into the grand hall. “It seems my father brought a harpy back with him from his last trip to hell.”

Julian barely smiled as they stepped toward the closed doors of the drawing room, where the butler was leading them. When the doors opened and they were announced, Richard scanned the room in his usual eagle-like fashion. His father’s men dotted the perimeter of the room. These were burley men who guarded the earl at all times. Richard did not recognize the faces, but he did not need to. He knew who they were and what their job was. He wondered briefly how his father always managed to find these men, always with the same look about them—mean, solid, yet short in stature. The earl would never have a subordinate looking down on him, not even one meant to intimidate.

Richard’s eyes next landed on his brother, Wesley, standing in the middle of the room surrounded by beautiful women whom Richard did not immediately recognize. He made a step toward the group when his father intercepted him.

“Ah, my son and my nephew. You have finally joined us.” The earl’s voice held a sickening sweetness that made Richard want to run. It was the voice Litchfield always gave when he was up to something vile—the performance before the mask was removed to reveal the evil underneath. Richard began to question his belief that the purpose of the evening was simply to celebrate Wesley’s betrothal, but rather something far more sinister.

Neither man responded but stood as the earl’s icy gaze trailed over his son. “It is good of you to make an appearance, Richard. I did not know if you were alive or dead these last two years.”

Richard’s outward appearance did not change as his father spoke. He retained the cold, emotionless expression he held when he walked through the door. Inside, he was reminding himself that he was no longer a child, and that voice need not send a bolt of fear straight through him. “You seemed to know enough to find me last week.”

“Yes, well, London is my town, is it not? I have many acquaintances here who like to fill me in on all the goings on. I am not fortunate enough to have friends in France or wherever it was you were all this time.” He paused once more to search Richard’s expression. Knowing full well what he was doing, Richard kept his gaze hard and unyielding. “Well, it is of no matter now. Your brother will be happy to see you.”

As the earl’s attention turned to Julian, Richard’s eyes once again wandered to his brother. Wesley seemed to stand straighter than the last time he saw him. As the eldest and heir to the considerable Litchfield estate, Wesley, Viscount Ashly, certainly had reason to be proud. However, it was not pride Richard read in his eyes as Wesley stared into his own, though, but curiosity mixed with something Richard could not name.

He father’s voice resonated beside him, but Richard barely heard him as the women in Wesley’s company came into focus. He recognized Rachel by the way she smiled sweetly in his direction. The years had been good to her. He remembered her as a slightly mousey, and mouthy, young lady, but the woman standing there was beautiful. He assumed the lack of a husband had kept her young and strong.

He nodded to her and turned his eyes to a smaller woman with many of the same features standing between Rachel and Wesley. She had a grip on his brother’s arm that left no doubt who she was. Kathleen. My future sister. The possessiveness in her expression hardened her otherwise lovely features, and Richard wondered at the cause of the protective stance. A slight look to the left of Wesley gave him his answer.

Captain Richard Granville was not often in the company of women. He had no sisters or any living female relations. He had often thought this was because the Granville men were so large and consuming that there was no room for delicacy, and the women just could not survive among them. There were, of course, the whores who followed the encampments along the battlefields and the occasional female spy who could never be trusted. But having so little experience with ladies in polite society, he was at first surprised and then gratified as a blush crept up this woman’s features as he held her eyes in his own. He heard the cackling laugh once more and watched as her blush intensified and turned into one of shame. She turned away, and Richard immediately missed having her eyes upon him. What was this angel doing in the den of the devil?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pamela Lynne grew up in the American South, surrounded by Southern Gothic works by Faulkner, O’Connor and the like. These authors helped shape her evolving mind and continue to influence everything she produces as an adult. It was a Regency-era wit from across the Atlantic, however, who lit a life-long interest in 19th Century England.

Pamela cites Jane Austen as her primary literary influence and she delves into the darker aspects of Regency life in all her novels, most particularly in The Granville Legacy Series, where she explores the bonds of family and what it costs to break them.

Dearest Friends: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, Pamela’s debut work, won the Independent Publishers 2016 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal for Romance.
Pamela currently lives in the rolling hills of Tennessee with her husband of more than a decade, three kids, two cats, and one very blond dog. She is still a Marianne hoping to grow into Elinor, or Clairee from Steel Magnolias.

Twitter: @pamelalynne1
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pamela-Lynne-226234447711114/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Brambles and Thorns by Jocelyn Kirk

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Elena Bellwood’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother dies and leaves her penniless. She is forced to move from her beloved home in New York City to live with an aunt in Connecticut—an aunt she never knew existed. During her journey north, she meets Benjamin Garrick, a blunt-spoken gentleman with a strange hobby. Against her will, Elena finds herself attracted to his manly demeanor, and she is both pleased and flustered to learn he is a close friend of her aunt and lives in the same village.

In her new life with Aunt Rosalie, Elena begins to question her past. Why had she never been told of her aunt? What is the significance of the odd items she found in her mother’s bedroom? Who is the stranger in town that seems always to be staring at her? To answer these questions, Elena must explore past secrets that tear apart her world.

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EXCERPT

The duke took her hand and kissed it.

“Thank you for coming, Your Grace.” She seated herself and the duke did likewise. Willa entered, and Elena ordered tea.

“I owe you an apology,” the duke began, “for not attending your mother’s funeral. I was out of the city for a few days on business, and the weather forced me to stay in Queens for an extra day.”

“Pray do not distress yourself. No one can stop snow when it decides to fall. You are here now, and I am deeply grateful for it.”

Willa came in with tea, and Elena served it. The duke sipped the hot liquid and devoured two of the sweet buns Willa placed on the table. He said nothing while he ate, rather surprising Elena with his silence.

Perhaps, she reasoned, he is gathering his courage for the presentation of his proposals. She attempted to wait patiently.

Finally, he spoke. “Miss Bellwood, what are your future plans?”

A thrill ran through her. “I…am not certain.”

“Have you no family to go to? You are not contemplating remaining in New York alone, I trust.”

“No. I have an aunt in Connecticut. I suppose I must go to her, unless…”

The duke started to speak but halted his words. He sighed and took her hand.

“I am fond of you, Elena, and because I care for you, I cannot be satisfied with being less than honest. To you I will speak the truth.”
“My dear duke, what do you mean?”

“I believe—correct me if I am mistaken—my attentions to you may perhaps have given rise to expectations…”

Elena instantly decided to be as frank as he. She took a deep breath and attempted to speak calmly. “Yes, perhaps they did, on my mother’s part, if not quite certainly my own.”

“If you recall, I was going to wait upon you on the day of your mother’s death.”

“Yes.”

“My purpose in calling was to request a private interview with you…”

“A private interview?”

“Yes. I feared that there had been some talk about us, and I wanted you to know, to forewarn you before the news broke.”

“Forewarn me? Your Grace, what do you mean?”

He smoothed his trousers. “Elena, a few days before your mother died, I engaged myself to Miss Julia Howarth—”

“Engaged yourself! Do you mean…?”

“Engaged to be married, yes.”

“Dear God! You were dancing with me—flirting with me—while engaged to another woman! That is despicable!”

He shrugged. “When you are in my arms, Elena, I find it impossible to think of anyone but you. I am not quite in love with you, but very near.”

She stared at him in horror and disbelief. “You are half in love with me, but then you—but why not…?”

He answered her unarticulated question. “My dear, you have no dowry, whereas Miss Howarth will bring the equivalent of thirty thousand English pounds. I am thirty-six years old, not a foolish young blade who would marry out of unalloyed devotion to the object of his desires. My inquiries as to your inheritance were met with the shocking information of your mother’s indebtedness. And now…rumor has it that you are destitute.”

“Good God!” Elena cried, unable to control her tongue. “You, with your wealth, would spurn me because my mother left no money?”

“Calm yourself, my dear, I pray you. The reason I am wealthy—and my family is wealthy—is because we never take any material step without a consideration of the financial aspects of it. I find you extremely charming and attractive, and I was willing to make you my choice even if your mother’s estate had been moderate. But no man in my condition of life would be so foolish as to take a bride who brings nothing to the marriage—not wealth nor noble blood nor future property. I would be a laughingstock.”

Elena leaned back in her chair, barely able to breathe from the shock of his revelations. She felt giddy and faint. She opened her mouth to speak but was unable to find breath to form words. The duke poured sherry and attempted to hold the glass to her lips, but she pushed his hand away with such force that the sweet wine spilled on the settee and splashed her silk gown.

“Elena, I beseech you, calm yourself. I am here to offer you a different type of proposal, and you may very well find this one equally to your liking.”

She raised her eyes to his face and stared at him. A cold chill ran down her back, and she shivered.

“Surely you are aware that most men in my position in life marry for wealth or family considerations, often to women for whom they have little desire. In such cases, it is customary for a gentleman to…to…”

“To keep a mistress?” Elena gasped, able to speak at last.

He shrugged. “To put it plainly, yes.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jocelyn’s fascination with life in the 1800s began when she was a teenager and started reading historical novels. She was influenced by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Winston Graham’s Poldark series. Jocelyn resides in the historic town of Mystic, Connecticut.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Murder in the Forbidden City (Qing Dynasty Mysteries #1) by Amanda Roberts

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Peking, 1867

When one of the Empress’s ladies-in-waiting is killed in the Forbidden City, she orders Inspector Gong to find the killer. Unfortunately, as a man, he is forbidden from entering the Inner Court. How is he supposed to solve a murder when he cannot visit the scene of the crime or talk to the women in the victim’s life? He won’t be able to solve this crime alone.

The widowed Lady Li is devastated when she finds out about the murder of her sister-in-law, who was serving as the Empress’s lady-in-waiting. She is determined to discover who killed her, even if it means assisting the rude and obnoxious Inspector Gong and going undercover in the Forbidden City.

Together, will Lady Li and Inspector Gong be able to find the murderer before he – or she – strikes again?

Readers who enjoy historical mysteries by authors such as Victoria Thompson, Deanna Raybourn, and Anne Perry are sure to love this exciting start to a new series by Amanda Roberts.

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EXCERPT

The empress, high up on her dais, wept uncontrollably. The baubles dangling from her elaborate hairdo quivered as she hid her face in her trembling hands.

The dead girl, one of the empress’s ladies-in-waiting, was lying on a long table in front of Inspector Gong. The investigation has already been botched beyond solving. The girl had been moved from the scene of the crime. Who knew how many people had trampled through the scene itself. The eunuchs had probably worked quickly to clean up the mess. The other men present, the ministers and advisors, had no words to comfort the empress. Everyone of importance was there except for the emperor himself. Such horrors were not appropriate for a child.

“Who did this?” the empress shrieked. “I demand to know!”

The room stayed silent as she resumed her crying. The empress, young as she was, was a formidable force, yet the Inspector knew the killer would not make himself, or herself, known just because the empress demanded it. This was one situation where the empress was not going to get her way.

“Your Majesty,” Inspector Gong finally said, “may I have a closer look at the body?”

The empress nodded her consent. “Just don’t touch her!” she yelled.

“Of course,” the Inspector replied, even though her demand was ridiculous. How could he get a complete understanding of what happened if he couldn’t examine the body fully? He approached the girl and kneeled down next to her. She had been stabbed several times in her neck and chest, her qaopao ripped open where the knife slashed through the beautiful fabric. Dark splotches of blood stained the light blue satin. The blood was dark, almost black. Even though blood typically darkened over time, it seemed unnaturally dark. Her hands were bloody as well and showed evidence of a struggle. Someone else’s blood, perhaps. Her hair was a mess and her shoes were gone. She had fought back and most likely tried to flee from her attacker. Her jaw was tightly clenched and her eyes closed. Her death had been frightening and painful.

“What was her name?” the inspector asked in a loud clear voice so all could hear. He stood straight and crossed his arms as he looked around the room.

“Lady Yun,” one of the eunuchs replied.

“How old was she?” he asked.

“Fifteen, sir.”

The inspector grunted. Fifteen. And she was beautiful, even in death. The long eyelashes of her closed eyes lay upon her pale cheeks.

“Who were her family?” he asked.

“She had no male relatives,” the eunuch replied.

“She was an orphan?” the Inspector asked.

“No, sir. She has a mother, but she is sickly. She was primarily cared for by her brother and sister-in-law until her brother’s death. Her sister-in-law is her guardian, but the girl had been living here at the Forbidden City for the last year.”

“I’ll need to speak to her sister-in-law,” he said. “Has she been informed yet of the girl’s death?”

“No, sir.”

“Good, I want to be the one to tell her. I need to see her reaction.”

“Whatever you need,” the empress finally spoke up, “it shall be yours. You must find who did this.”

“I need to see where she was killed, and speak to all the other ladies of the inner court who knew her.”

The room gasped and the empress starred at him in shock. The men began to murmur and argue among themselves.

“That is not possible,” one of the men said loudly, pointing a finger at the inspector. “No man can be allowed in the inner court. It is for the women’s protection.”

“Protection?” the inspector asked. “One of the empress’s own ladies was murdered inside the very walls of the Forbidden City. Make no mistake; if someone could kill this girl, no one here is safe. Look at her hands, the stab wounds. She must have screamed. How could no one have heard her? I must be allowed to inspect every aspect of this crime if any member of the royal family wishes to feel safe in their own home again.”

The inspector knew he was making things worse. There was no evidence that the killer would strike again or that the empress or child-emperor were in danger, but unless he was allowed behind the sealed doors of the inner court, he would never find the killer. If he had to frighten the empress out of her wits to achieve his goal, he would do so.

The room erupted in yelling and arguments. The empress was no longer crying, but was looking around the room with her large, dark eyes.

“Inspector,” she finally said, silencing the room. “Are you saying you think I could be in danger?”

“I do not know, Your Majesty,” he said. “But I can rule nothing out. I do not know if Lady Yun was the target of the killer’s rage or if she only got in the way. I do not know if the killer has fled or if he, or she, is within this very room.” Another round of gasps followed. “What I do know,” he continued, “is that this investigation should be the throne’s priority, and to do my job properly, to bring the killer to justice, I need to be allowed into the inner court of the women.”

The empress opened her mouth to speak, but she was interrupted by a court minister by the name of Song. “No!” he said firmly. “It is forbidden and improper. You cannot violate the sacred space of the women’s quarters. To do so would be as violating the women themselves.”

“Minister,” Inspector Gong nearly laughed. “Investigating a murder would hardly be the same as taking a woman to bed…at least in my case.” Several of the other men laughed.

“This is no laughing matter,” Minister Song erupted. “If you cannot do your job from outside of the inner court, then you are not worthy of your title and should be stripped of your rank and salary immediately!”

“Now, see here, Minister…” the inspector began.

“I agree,” another minister interrupted. “Is his job worth doing if it violates the integrity of the empress?”

Several other men spoke up in agreement.

“Enough,” the empress finally said, her voice clear and even. The room went quiet. She was calm now. Even her hands were steady. “I agree this case should be of the utmost importance. My own safety and the safety of the emperor rely on it.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Inspector Gong replied.

“However,” she continued, “we cannot allow this killer, whoever he is, disrupt our lives and the way things are done. Tradition and court procedure are at the very center of the throne and the country. I have to agree with the ministers. You cannot be allowed to enter the inner court, Inspector.”

“So you will allow a killer to go free?” he asked. “Allow a murderer to perhaps roam your very halls?”

“No,” she said. “You will find the killer. And you will do so quickly so that we can make sure my son is safe. You will have everything you need at your disposal, but you will do so from outside the inner court.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Amanda Roberts is a writer and editor who has been living in China since 2010. Amanda has an MA in English from the University of Central Missouri. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies around the world and she regularly contributes to numerous blogs. Amanda can be found all over the Internet, but her home is TwoAmericansinChina.com.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Secret Engagement (House of Caruthers Book 2) by Sarah Richmond

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Edmund Caruthers, London barrister and gentleman, defies his father and his class to represent the poor. With few paying customers, he struggles financially. He’s frustrated his betrothed won’t set a date to marry him.

Dolly Wycliffe dreams of becoming a famous milliner. She loves Edmund, but the life of a society matron isn’t for her. Edmund’s family and friends remind her that a girl who makes hats can’t become the wife of a distinguished barrister.

When a woman is found murdered in fashionable Mayfair, their two worlds collide. The victim is a shop girl and Dolly enlists Edmund’s help to find the killer. Edmund keeps a friend’s involvement a secret and Dolly realizes the toffs have rules they’re unwilling to break.

Is their love enough to overcome the obstacles ahead? Will marrying be a decision they’ll both come to regret?

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EXCERPT

Standing this close to Edmund Caruthers, her heart fluttering, the rest of her body reacting with scandalous desire, she didn’t want to be respectable.

Or, for that matter, a lady.

He poured a ladle filled with lemonade into two pretty cut-glass cups and handed her one.

Although Edmund rarely took anything seriously, she could tell by the set of his jaw and his piercing stare he was serious now. Beyond serious, for the subject of setting a wedding date had become a sore point between them. They had been engaged for more than six months, in secret, but it seemed like only yesterday when he’d proposed marriage. What a wonderful day that’d been.

“Are you all right?” Edward’s gaze made her flood with heat.

She smiled. “Why do you ask?”

“You are quiet this evening,” he said.

“Am I?”

She knew precisely what he was after. She kept his ring on a ribbon tied around her neck. Her hand went reflexively to the top of her corset where the ring rested, ready to take its place on her finger. When that would be, if ever, she couldn’t say.

Dolly couldn’t live in his world. She would always fear, as she did now, of being caught out. She could suffer the humiliation for her own sake, but she wouldn’t subject Edmund to their scorn.

“You haven’t answered my question,” he said.

“More like an observation.”

He sipped his punch. “Alas, I stand corrected.”

She looked into his eyes. She did not doubt his love for her. Did he appreciate the difficulty of the obstacles ahead? What if they were insurmountable?

“You have been very patient,” she said. “More patient than I deserve.”

His gaze clouded. “Tell me why you won’t set a date for our wedding.”

She sighed. “You know perfectly well I must work for a living.”

“I thought the discussion about your career was settled. I will not expect you to give up the milliner’s shop or stop making your exquisite hats.”

“You may not, but others will.”

He looked away and tightened his jaw. What she’d said vexed him.

She continued. “Society frowns on women working. As a wife, I will be expected to stay home.”

“You place too much importance on what others think,” he said.

“Of course I do. It is a necessity of being in trade. I make hats. What my customers like is crucial to whether I sell them or not.”

Edmund shifted his feet. He could not refute the truth of what she’d said.

Dolly wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his friends by engaging in an argument. “This is not the time and place to discuss such an important matter.” She put down her drink on a side table. “We should instead be celebrating Herbert and Cecilia’s good fortune.”

“There never does seem to be a good time,” he answered with irritation.

She didn’t know what more she could say to convince him. She didn’t belong here. Surely he knew that. Why did he persist thinking society would accept her after they were married? Was it some kind of game to him, a challenge to family and friends?

She took his drink from him and set it next to hers on the table. “Sir, would you like to dance?”

His sullen expression disappeared. Happily, Edmund never stayed cross for long. He took her hand and led her to the middle of the dancers.

Drawing her closer, he put his hand at her waist. Not an embrace exactly, but thrilling just the same.

“I consider myself a lucky man.”

She rested her arm on his shoulder. The scent of his shaving cream reminded her of a walk in the park. She looked up into his eyes and saw a hint of amusement in the glint in his eyes and the quirk of his mouth, as if the matter of setting a date was settled. It was easy for him to believe all would be well because he’d never known failure.

He guided her to the rhythm of the music: one, two, three, and her heart beat the same rhythm. She put her troubles out of her mind and enjoyed herself in the arms of a splendid fellow.

Edmund would be the first to admit the evening had gotten off to a bad start. He blamed himself. The Pemberton’s soiree contained people Dolly didn’t know, apart from Herbert and Cecilia. They’d landed in a sea of social sharks ready to bite at the least provocation and Dolly had every reason to be apprehensive.

The music ended with a flourish and the assembly clapped. He twirled his true love one last time.

She threw back her head and laughed.

Ah, that’s better.

She detached herself from his grasp. The heat of the room and the exertion, and dare he think, his close proximity had brought color to her face, especially to the apples of both cheeks. He found himself transfixed by her glowing skin, dark penetrating gaze, and perfect mouth.
He thought himself the happiest man alive. The only thing that could make him happier is for her to set a wedding date. Her lips parted, ready to speak. Had she made a decision?

Herbert approached them bearing drinks. “Here you are.” He handed one of the glasses to Dolly. Edmund took the other.

His friend’s timing couldn’t have been worse but there’d be other moments this evening. The Pemberton’s ballroom was alive with romance and Edmund would take advantage. He felt certain he would have his answer tonight.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Richmond is an award winning Historical Romance writer. Born in the mid-west, she now resides in Southern California with her husband and Welsh corgi. Sarah is an avid fan of the University of Michigan football, movies from the 1940’s and 50’s, and enjoys having lunch with her friends

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2) by Sherry Thomas

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Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, September 2017
RHR Classifications: Historical mystery, with a touch of romance
Time and Setting: London 1886
Heat Level: N/A
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I am breathless. Not to mention sleepless, as I had to stay up late to finish this amazing book. Sherry Thomas is simply a genius – twisting classic Sherlockian memes into complicated knots and then gradually untying them so that we’re left with a beautiful seamless ribbon of an adventure tinged with romance. A Conspiracy in Belgravia is most definitely going on my “playing chess not checkers” shelf.

This is the second Lady Sherlock book, and as we learned in the first, Miss Charlotte Holmes has set herself up as the supposed sister of an invalid brother, Sherlock, who is brilliant at solving baffling mysteries and who occasionally assists Inspector Treadles of Scotland Yard. Charlotte is estranged from her aristocratic parents and lives with Mrs. John Watson, the colorful widow of an Army officer. Together, they maintain the facade of an ailing Sherlock living at 221B Baker Street. Charlotte interviews the clients while ‘Sherlock’ listens from his bedchamber. Only a few people know that Sherlock does not exist, including Charlotte’s sister Livia, Inspector Treadles, and Lord Ingram Ashburton – Ash – Charlotte’s closest friend since childhood.

Shortly before our story begins, Charlotte had helped expose a triple murderer, and here I must offer a suggestion: read A Study In Scarlet Women first. While this book could be read as a standalone, I think that a reader’s understanding and enjoyment would be enhanced by reading them in order.

Charlotte receives a note requesting an appointment from a Mrs. Finch, but Charlotte immediately recognizes the notepaper and realizes that the letter comes from Lady Ingram Ashburton. The situation is rather tricky, as Ash and his wife are not a happy couple, living virtually separate lives under the same roof for the sake of propriety and their two young children. Moreover, Ash and Charlotte are secretly in love with one another, although they would never admit it or act upon it. Ash is too honorable, and Charlotte is too unromantic to think of love. There is a palpable undercurrent of attraction though.

Charlotte accepts Lady Ingram’s request, but to avoid being recognized by her, Mrs. Watson’s niece Penelope poses as Sherlock’s sister. It turns out that Lady Ingram is looking for help in locating a young man, Myron Finch, with whom she fell in love before marrying Ash. For financial and social reasons, they could not marry but they agreed to meet once a year at the Albert Memorial, not speaking or acknowledging one another but merely passing to see that each was still alive and well. This year, however, Mr. Finch did not appear, and Lady Ingram wants Holmes to locate him and discover the reason. Imagine Charlotte’s surprise when Penelope repeats this story to her, for Myron Finch is Charlotte’s illegitimate half-brother, a son her father had supported but kept a secret from his wife and daughters. (Charlotte knows about him because she and Livia routinely snooped in their father’s office when he was out of town.)

Charlotte is in for another surprise that day, when Ash’s older brother, Lord Bancroft Ashburton, pays her a call and proposes marriage. (For you Sherlockians, Bancroft is a Mycroft Holmes sort of character who holds a position in the government and can pull strings when needed.) Bancroft is the opposite of his brother Ash – cerebral, decidedly uncharismatic, and obsessively curious about everything and everyone. Charlotte agrees to consider his proposal, as it does present some advantages for her. Marriage to Bancroft would redeem her reputation in society, which was ruined when she ran away from home after being deliberately caught in flagrante with a married man. It would enable a reconciliation with her family and enable her to offer care for her mentally disabled sister Bernadette and to visit openly with Livia. However, she would be required to give up her Sherlock Holmes persona and distance herself from the socially unsuitable Mrs. Holmes. Bancroft offers her a consolation, though: “given that mental exertion gives you pleasure, I shall be happy to supply the necessary exercises. After all, I come across them on a regular basis.” With that, he gives her a dossier of six envelopes containing the details of unsolved mysteries. One of them involves breaking a virtually impossible cipher, but Charlotte is up to the job, which leads her and Ash to a London house where Inspector Treadles is investigating a murder.

Of course, I cannot resist saying that from there, the game is afoot. It is far too complicated to even begin to describe how this murder ties into the search for Myron Finch, but it does. In the incredibly skillful hands of Sherry Thomas though, the intricate plot works and everything falls into place at the end. Not only is the adventure marvelously structured, the characters are fascinating. Charlotte is logical and unromantic, and yet she hesitates to marry Bancroft given that she finds his brother more attractive. We feel great sympathy for Ash, trapped as he is in a miserable marriage to a deceitful woman who only married him for his money. Little sister Livia meets a mysterious young man who seems to like her despite her oddities and quirks. We also learn more about the tribulations of Inspector Treadles, a man happily married to an heiress but living on a detective’s income. He has women problems. His wife admits that she would like to run her father’s business, and the “magnificent boon to his career,” Sherlock Holmes, “turned out to be a woman with loose morals and no remorse.”

Once again, Thomas inserts little factoids from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories. Livia is finding her inner muse and begins writing her own mystery story about a massacre in Utah related to a religious cult. (Sherlockians will immediately recognize elements of A Study in Scarlet.) And the arch-criminal Moriarty makes his presence known.

I read this on my Kindle, making lots of notes and highlights and flipping back to read some passages again. It is not an effortless read, even for someone who loves complex mysteries. But the effort is well worth it. Sherry Thomas is superbly talented, and it shows in every page of this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

One more thing. Just when you think you have it all figured out – there is the last line of the book. Wow! I did not see that coming. Can’t wait for the next one.

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas

A Study in scarlet women

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With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2016

RHR Classifications: Historical mystery, with a hint of romance to come
Time and Setting: 1886, England
Heat Level: N/A
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Sherry Thomas is one of the best historical romance authors of the past decade, so I had no concerns that she could write a good historical mystery. But Sherlock Holmes? As a woman? Even though I am a long-time Sherlockian, I am not fanatical about the sanctity of Conan Doyle’s canon – so why not? I can enthusiastically report that Thomas has pulled off this challenge in a first-rate manner.

It is very easy to see Sherlock in Charlotte Holmes’s personality, mannerisms, and intellect. Conan Doyle never showed us the very young Sherlock, so Thomas is free to experiment here. Charlotte is the youngest of four daughters born to the unhappily-wed Sir Henry and Lady Holmes. Henrietta, the eldest, has modeled herself after her unpleasant mother, and is married to a Mr. Cumberland. It remains to be seen whether she has adopted her mother’s habit of slapping hapless servants and unruly daughters. The next sister, Bernadine, is so withdrawn that she is no longer taken out in society; today we probably would diagnose her as autistic, perhaps epileptic, and anorexic to boot. Sister Livia, Charlotte’s only friend, has had eight unsuccessful Seasons and is prone to depression. She at least takes pleasure from writing incessantly in her journal.

Charlotte is her father’s pet and her mother’s despair. She is sharply intelligent and blessed with an amazing memory as well as powers of observation and deduction. She is forthright to the point of rudeness and so completely uninterested in getting married that she has turned down several proposals. She is quite beautiful and has allowed her mother to dress her in the height of fashion, but underneath the veneer Charlotte is a determined non-conformist.

Although they play relatively minor roles in the book’s plot, I mention Charlotte’s family because Thomas paints a particularly affecting portrait of them in the first few chapters. It wasn’t really necessary, but it sets up the story very nicely. Such is the mark of an extraordinary writer. Moreover, this part of the story is written from Livia’s point of view and suggests that Livia may be the chronicler, i.e., a sort of Watson to Charlotte’s Sherlock.

Charlotte’s ambition is to become headmistress of a girls’ school, which is really quite silly, as she has never been to school, but that seems to be the only professional option available to a gently-bred young lady. Her father encourages Charlotte’s aspiration, but as the book opens Charlotte is infuriated to see that he is succumbing to his wife’s pressure to marry her off.

Although Charlotte is supposedly very smart, she embarks on a farcical scheme to get herself ruined (by a carefully selected married man) and thus made ineligible for marriage. The scheme goes spectacularly awry, and Charlotte flees her home and reckons she can find some type of respectable employment, although with no references and no experience, she finds it rough going. Until, that is, she meets and instantly feels an affinity for a colorful, older lady whose army officer husband died in Afghanistan. This Mrs. Watson is a comfortably wealthy but lonely former actress who has unsuccessfully been looking for a paid companion. She is intrigued by Charlotte’s special talent for solving mysteries, and when she offers Charlotte the position as her companion, the reader can see that she envisions them as partners in adventure.

Aside from her sweet sister Livia, Charlotte has one other friend: Lord Ingram Ashburton, to whom she has been close since childhood. Indeed, when Lord Ingram enters the plot, it is clear that he and Charlotte are in love with one another. Not that they would admit it, for he is unhappily married and far too honorable to act upon his improper feelings. Lord Ingram, a gentleman archeologist, has served as a go-between for Charlotte and Scotland Yard’s Inspector Treadles (ah, we have our Lestrade) where Charlotte’s talent has helped solve a few cases. Treadles, however, does not know that Charlotte is Sherlock; he thinks she is Sherlock’s sister.

This, then, is the set-up for the mysteries that confront Inspector Treadles when Sherlock Holmes publishes a letter connecting three, apparently unrelated and apparently natural, deaths:

It has come to my attention that Mr. Harrington Sackville’s death, by apparent overdose of chloral, may not be an isolated incident: Lady Amelia Drummond preceded him in death by a week and a half; the Dowager Baroness Shrewsbury followed a mere twenty-four hours later. Lady Amelia was first cousin to Mr. Sackville’s elder brother by the same father, Lord Sheridan, and godmother to one of Baroness Shrewsbury’s children.

With this shocking announcement – and how could I resist saying it? – the game is afoot. I found this book to be quite as good as any Conan Doyle mystery (and I have read them all many times). The characters are intriguing and well-drawn, and the pacing is excellent. As with any mystery, not everyone is completely honest, but neither did I notice anything so misleading as to be considered unfair. Although this book is not an historical romance like many of Sherry Thomas’s other books, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries in a historical setting. I can’t wait for the next book, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, due out in September 2017, where Charlotte’s client is looking for her missing lover. And that client is none other than Lord Ingram’s wife!

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

a-most-extraordinary-pursuit

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February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia—and a woman of scrupulous character—Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke’s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown.

An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max’s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions—about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2016

Time and Setting: 1906, England and various locales in the Mediterranean
Genre: Historical mystery with paranormal elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

The beloved Duke of Olympia is dead, and his great-nephew and heir is nowhere to be found. The duke’s grieving duchess calls upon Emmeline Truelove, the late duke’s secretary, to travel to the Mediterranean, find the heir, and bring him home to his new dukedom. The duchess has also arranged for the Marquess of Silverton to accompany Emmeline, which does not make her happy, as her first impression of him is that he’s a shallow wastrel. The marquess (Freddie) is, in fact, a rakish, witty man, but he’s also an excellent fighter and a trained agent. Emmeline, who is called by her last name “Truelove” for most of this story, is not at all delighted with this situation, but agrees to travel with Freddie to find the missing Mr. Haywood, now the new duke. Truelove’s agreeing to go on this quest is also against the advice (demand) of the deceased Queen Victoria, who regularly appears to have conversations with her. Yes, Truelove communicates regularly with the former monarch, as well as with her own deceased father.

During the course of their travels, the prickly Truelove fends off any flirtatious attempts by Freddie with biting remarks, which he happily volleys. It soon becomes apparent that Haywood has not just gone off on his own – there is some nefarious plot afoot. The current events happening are directly related to a mythological tale (or is it?) from the past – and even involves the future.

This adventurous story is certainly a departure from previous books by Juliana Gray, and I give her credit for this intricate and detailed plot. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit undoubtedly held my attention and entertained me, but I did not become invested in the protagonists and their almost-sort of-romance. When I don’t find myself rooting for the characters to be together, or truly care for their future, the book doesn’t touch my emotions, and isn’t my preferred type of read. There are many unanswered questions, which I’m sure will be addressed in future books featuring Emmeline Truelove. If you enjoy a rollicking adventure with a bit of time-travel, some paranormal elements and plenty of witty banter, I believe this might well hit the spot.

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match by Juliana Gray

the duke of olympia meets his matc

From Juliana Gray comes an all-new historical romance novella featuring the famous—and often infamous—Duke of Olympia.

Aboard the luxuriously appointed SS Majestic, the duke is on a mission to retrieve a most important portfolio of papers and thwart a known anarchist. As the ship steams across the Atlantic, the duke’s search for the notorious master of disguise forces him into close quarters with an American heiress and her widowed governess, Mrs. Penelope Schuyler.

While Olympia has known his fair share of intriguing women, Mrs. Schuyler seems to have a way of challenging his expectations at every turn. But as their clandestine meetings lead them down an unexpected path, the duke must determine if Penelope is a woman to be trusted…

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

Time and Setting: 1893, crossing from New York to England
Genre: Historical fiction novella with a mystery
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Juliana Gray burst on to the historical romance scene a few years ago with her enchanting Victorian-era Affairs by Moonlight series and then continued her success with the passionate Princess in Hiding series. Throughout both of those series, however, there was one enigmatic figure who was a constant; an older gentleman behind the scenes, organizing – well, manipulating really – but also protecting and matchmaking the heroes and heroines of those novels: the Duke of Olympia.

In the previous stories, Olympia is the grandfather and uncle to the protagonists but, in this historical romance novella with a mystery, he is the romantic hero.

Admittedly, he’s not your usual hero: for one, he is seventy four years-old, but in this day of age awareness and consideration, why should that matter? He is tall, strong, and dashing and debonair. He turns many a head and, naturally, one American mama has her eye on him for her American heiress daughter. Her twenty year-old daughter wants nothing to do with Olympia romantically but is content to put on a flirtatious show for her mother even as she secretly meets with her true love.

The entire novella takes place on an ocean voyage on the S.S. Majestic in March, 1893, and each day represents a chapter in the story. Olympia, who has long been in government espionage for the Crown, is in hot pursuit of a mysterious woman carrying important papers. Ms. Gray creates a nice setting of a bygone era of travel on board ship.

Olympia meets Mrs. Penelope Schuyler, an attractive and vivacious fifty-something widow who serves as a companion to Miss Ruby Morrison, the American heiress. Mrs. Schuyler was left destitute and at the beck and call of the Morrison family for a roof over her head and food to eat but she also possesses a strong sense of dignity and self-respect. She is also carrying the significant papers that Olympia seeks.

This elegant novella has the breezy, self-assured style that Ms. Gray displayed so well in her first six novels. It’s more of a short story mystery with a romance than an historical romance, and it’s charming and fun to read.

The mystery element is handled in a satisfactory way and I really enjoyed the twists and turns as well as the unexpected results at the story’s end. The implications of Olympia falling for Mrs. Schuyler instead of Miss Morrison are well depicted and the reader really gets a sense of the precarious financial and domestic situation in which Penelope finds herself.

It looks like, with this prequel, Ms. Gray is creating a Victorian-era mystery with a romance series, a very different sort of story than her other novels. It seems like it will be more history and mystery than romance and, with Ms. Gray’s beautiful writing and colorful characters, I’m sure it will also be original and fresh.

If you like shipboard romances, intrigue, and an intelligent and amusing story, you will enjoy The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match.

A Pressing Engagement (Lady Darby #4.5) by Anna Lee Huber

02_A Pressing Engagement

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With her wedding to fellow investigator Sebastian Gage only a day away, Kiera is counting down the hours. But just when matrimonial jitters threaten to consume her, Kiera receives a welcome distraction in the form of a mysterious gold necklace.

The Celtic torc, thought missing for decades, was directly involved in a recent investigation. Now, Kiera feels compelled to uncover the truth behind its sudden reappearance.

But with an overwhelming flock of wedding guests, a muddled cat, an unpaid favor, and a ferocious storm throwing things into disarray, it’s anyone’s guess whether Kiera and Gage will actually make it to the altar…

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Edinburgh, 1831
Genre: Historical Mystery
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Fans of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries have followed the adventures of the unusual and talented Keira Darby and her fellow investigator, the gorgeous Sebastian Gage through four books, now, in which the couple has gone from an initial mistrust and animosity to grudging respect, liking, the stirrings of attraction and, finally, love. At the end of the third book, A Grave Matter Gage proposed and in the fourth, A Study in Death, they were an engaged couple, working alongside each other to solve a mystery involving a case of poisoning and the misplacement of some valuable artefacts.

In the next book, As Death Draws Near, we will finally see them as a married couple continuing their already established strong and complementary working relationship as they adjust to marriage, but before that release in July, comes A Pressing Engagement an eighty-three page novella which takes place on the day before (and day of) the wedding, as a nice little teaser to whet our appetites for the release of the next book in July.

From the previous book, we already know that Keira was being driven round the bend by her sister Alana’s enthusiasm about the wedding preparations and her wishing to ensure it is a spectacular occasion. Deep down, Keira doesn’t want all the fuss – she’d happily marry Gage over the anvil – but at that time, Alana, heavily pregnant, needed something to stop her brooding about the impending birth, so Keira allowed her to fuss and fret while she and Gage pursued their latest enquiry.

Even though she gave birth just weeks ago, Alana is up and running around making sure things are organised and double-organised, and Keira finds it hard to summon up an interest in how many flounces are on her dress or how many flower arrangements there should be… so when her cousin Jock arrives bearing a gift which she and Gage suspect may be linked to their previous investigation, there is only one thing to be done. They must find out the truth, but have only the day in which to do it.

I should say first off that anyone who hasn’t read at least a couple of the books in the series, especially the last one, is likely to be completely adrift reading this story, as it doesn’t work as a standalone. Apart from the central couple, there are several recurring characters making an appearance, and the continuance of the various familial relationships that have already been established.

Truth to tell, the mystery aspect of the plot is a little flimsy and isn’t really what interested me; I was in it for the wedding and to watch Keira and Gage working together again. The relationship between Keira and her sister is very well-done, and there is a nicely poignant conversation between them towards the end, in which Keira is brought to admit that perhaps she has been a little selfish in her disinterest in the wedding preparations. I loved how she confronted Gage’s father and put her foot down, and most of all, how well she and Gage work together and complement each other.

A Pressing Engagement is a welcome bit of filler for those of us eagerly awaiting the next book, but anyone who likes the sound of it but hasn’t read the other books should go back to the beginning and start with The Anatomist’s Wife. If you’ve enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia mysteries or Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books, you won’t be disappointed.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

A curious beginning
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London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

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Publisher and Release Date: September 2015 by NAL/Penguin

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1887
Genre: Mystery/Adventure with a hint of romance to come
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Readers who enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series of Victorian mystery/romance stories will definitely want to try A Curious Beginning, the first volume of a new series featuring an independent-minded Victorian woman who goes sleuthing with a sexy, mysterious man of many secrets. On the surface, the characters sound similar to Lady Julia and Brisbane, but they are sufficiently different from that couple to make this series stand on its own.

Veronica Speedwell (and yes, that is an intentionally redundant name, as “Speedwell” is the common name for the flowering genus Veronica) is an orphan raised by two spinsters who call themselves her aunts but who really are not related to her. She never knew her parents and apparently never was curious to know about them. She took up lepidoptery in her youth as a way of getting out of the house by herself, and she has turned it into a quasi-career and traveled to remote parts of the world. As she is a thoroughly modern young woman, she has occasionally indulged her carnal desires with men she met on her travels. The story opens as the last aunt has died after Veronica returned from a butterfly-hunting trip to Costa Rica.

Veronica is rational, independent, stubborn, and outspoken. She has none of the usual accomplishments expected of a Victorian female and has no desire to marry and have children. It is not surprising, therefore, that when she returns from her aunt’s funeral to find an intruder in their cottage, she fights and then pursues him. When the intruder attempts to drag her into a waiting carriage, she is rescued by a courtly German gentleman who introduces himself as Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach. He tells her that her life is in jeopardy and that she must put herself under his protection. Trusting her instincts – which Veronica does quite often – she agrees and they set off for London.

It turns out that the baron knew her mother, but he is reluctant to tell her much immediately. “If it were in my power to tell you everything . . . ” he tells Veronica as he leaves her in London, promising to return. The baron commits Veronica to a man he trusts completely, Stoker, a naturalist and taxidermist who works in a dilapidated Thames-side warehouse crammed full of scientific specimens, dead animals, and all sorts of related paraphernalia. Stoker does not make a good first impression, but he owes the baron some type of debt of honor, so he begrudgingly agrees to let Veronica stay and promises to protect her. Emphasis on begrudgingly.

Lots of authors create romantic heroes who are rude, moody, and misogynistic, but with Stoker, Deanna Raybourn has outdone them all. In the early parts of the book, it is very difficult to imagine Stoker as a hero; he is truly a jerk. Soon, however, when the baron is found murdered and Stoker takes Veronica on the road to elude the assassin, the pair begin to develop a reluctant respect for one another. Veronica is not one to be cowed by any man, and there is delightful banter between the two. It becomes easier to admire Stoker, although he never will be a hail-fellow-well-met type of guy. He is devoted to protecting his charge, and there were a few times I became impatient with Veronica’s reluctance to trust him.

There are far too many twists and turns in the plot for me to do it justice in this review. Suffice it to say that you will not in your wildest dreams imagine what is coming next. And yet, thanks to Ms. Raybourn’s skill, it all works beautifully in the end. The mystery of Veronica’s birth is revealed, but there is lots of room for further developments in that area. And some of Stoker’s past comes to light, although he still remains a man of deep mystery. The author has pulled off a neat trick in making the heroine a plain-speaking, practical, and unsentimental woman, while the hero is more of an emotional, reticent, and easily wounded romanticist (although he would deny it).

In the end, Veronica devises a clever plan for them to continue working together, as she realizes that she does not want to simply say good-bye to Stoker forever.

Something about his quickness of mind, his determination to live by his own lights, had called to me. I recognized his nature as my own. It was as if we were two castaways from a far-off land, adrift among strangers whose ways we could not entirely understand. But something within us spoke the same language, for all our clashes of words. He did not trust me entirely; that much was certain. And I frequently frustrated him to the point of madness. But I knew that whatever bedeviled him, he had need of me—and it seemed a betrayal to turn my back upon one of my own kind. I had seldom met another such as we, and I had learned that to be a child of the wilderness was a lonely thing.

So, is this book truly a romance? Some readers would say “no,” given that the couple don’t even exchange a kiss. The underlying, unspoken sexual tension between them, however, is off the charts. In this respect, it is similar to the initial relationship between Lady Julia and Brisbane, and I am relieved to say that by the end I found Stoker attractive enough to make a potential romance appealing. I don’t know that he will replace Brisbane as one of my favorite book-boyfriends, but I am eager to see him try.

Deanna Raybourn is a talented writer, and her adroit mixture of history, romance, and mystery have made her one of my favorites. In A Curious Beginning, she has put together a first-rate combination of plot, characters, and atmosphere that has me eagerly looking forward to spending a lot more time with Veronica and Stoker.