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by Tasha Alexander
Minotaur, October 2015
288 pages
ISBN: 1250058260

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dramatis personae: Our hero Lady Emily and her husband Colin Hargreaves, agent of the Crown; Amity Wells, American heiress; Amity's mother Birdy, a battle-axe; her brother Augustus, who impales butterflies on pins; Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, affianced to Amity; Cécile du Lac, Lady Emily's friend; a trio of can-can dancers at the casino; Chauncey Neville, alas, dead.

Birdy Wells, whose husband is in copper, is determined that her daughter Amity will catch an English duke and become the envy of the members of New York's Five Hundred. The family, we learn, travels to India to begin, since they have a connection there. Pretty soon Amity is hot on the trail of an eligible young man in Egypt. As readers, we learn much of this backstory in flashback chapters told from Amity's point of view.

Firmly caught, Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, his new fiancée Amity, her parents and brother Augustus, Colin and Lady Emily, the duke's good friends, and various other friends and boon companions, travel to Cannes to gamble, eat, drink, and take walks among Roman ruins, all in celebration of the Duke's and Amity's upcoming nuptuals. The hotel Britannia provides a handsome and cultured backdrop to their celebration.

But, alas, this is a murder mystery, and, sure enough, there is a murder on page 1: Chauncey Neville, a friend of the duke, is found in the duke's rooms, dead of strychnine poisoning. Poor Chauncey's death, however, is only the first of a string of strange incidents that cause the party at Cannes to become tarnished. Accidents seem to dog the duke. Augustus, Amity's weird brother, lurks behind things, watching, waiting, and impaling yet another butterfly for his collection. A message calls Lady Emily out into the rain, but no one is there to meet her. A dancing-girl is found murdered in her rooms.

What is not well and good, however, is the rambling plot to which readers are treated. We find ourselves asking if the group can possibly go out sailing, picnicking, ordering up a cab, or costumes from Worth, or bottles of whiskey and Port immediately on the death of a friend. Their random perambulations to ruins and vistas are perhaps realistic to some class of citizenry, but they may not belong in a novel. I long for investigations that seem driven by some kind of logic. The investigation into Chauncey's suicide seems to advance willy-nilly; clues that yield information seem to do so by accident. The final dénouement is not led up to so much as fallen into.

Tasha, dear, I tell the author, sipping tea from my china cup and helping myself to a scone, frivolity does not make a good plot, and even the upper crust must use logic, you know.

§ Cathy Downs is professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, October 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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