Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Tasha Alexander
Minotaur, October 2018
296 pages
ISBN: 1250164702

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Tasha Alexander's latest shuttles readers between fifteenth-century Agincourt and 1901, near the time of Victoria's death. Colin Hargreaves, agent of the crown, enlists the help of Lady Emily and her friends when a string of murders seems to threaten the newly crowned Edward VII.

Dramatis personae: Lady Emily, educated and spirited daughter to one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, wife to Colin Hargreave; Colin, agent to the crown, whose ideas concerning the education and activities of women are most advanced; Henry V, Henry VI, Edward II, Richard II, Edward VII, British royalty, all unfortunately (or fortunately, depending), deceased; Cecily Bristow, devout wife to William Hargrave, a knight in Henry V's army that is on a fateful march to Agincourt; Adeline, her cousin, whose devotion is to any handsome man in her vicinity; Mr Edmund Grummidge, a grocer who beat his wife, unfortunately dead; Clive Casby, a procurer who treated the women whom he marketed as objects of use, unfortunately dead; Lizzie Hopman, a prostitute, dead of rather too vigorous—use; Inspector Gale, a wretched police officer who is not dedicated to making progress; an inspector Pickering, a police officer who recognizes that Lady Emily and Colin are onto something; Mr. Crofton, owner of a mine in Wales where an accident had taken place, but he does not last long; Ned Traddles, ne'r-do-well, miner, beloved of Lizzie, and lost in the mine accident; Robert Traddles, Ned's brother; The Members of The King's Boys, a gang of men who, recruited as boys, become as violent as they need to be to survive; Gil Barton and Rodney, friends to Ned, all members of the King's Boys; Prentice Hancock, possibly the shadowy "king" who controls the King's Boys; Holbrooke and Sons, who meets an unfortunate end.

Tasha Alexander's new work shuttles back and forth between the fifteenth century and "now," which is actually 1900 London. "Now" the dying Queen Victoria presents Colin Hargreaves, her faithful retainer, with a piece of paper emblazoned with a strange device. On the day of her funeral, a man, clad in the clothing of a king, turns up dead in the Tower of London. Murder most foul, one must conclude, but the question is, does his death threaten the life of the new king, Victoria's son? Colin sets out to investigate, and, as usual, Lady Emily has her husband's complete trust; her title gives her the power to act on her judgment.

The parallel fifteenth century chapters explore the fortunes of kings as well as the relations between men and women of the nobility. Readers follow Cecily Bristow, who must use her wits to stay out of the clutches of various men at her cousin's home. Her cousin, who enjoys seduction very well indeed, pins unsavory rumors on Cecily. However, Cecily's husband, rather than becoming prey to rumors, carries his wife to his noble homestead, where she becomes the lady of a considerable estate as well as the mother of noble-born children. Her husband, William, for his faithful service as soldier at the battle of Agincourt, receives lands, and a secret title.

The novel's twentieth-century plot takes us into the streets which are home to orphan children. Boys are recruited as chimney sweeps and pickpockets; girls become prostitutes. By a deft turn, the story of these orphaned children becomes central to Lady Emily's search for the murderer who threatens to kill again.

This is not Tasha Alexander's best, but it will do. Of particular interest are the atmospheric chapters devoted to the 15th-century actions of Henry V and his army, and to the actions of Cecily and her determination (after reading a conduct book by Christine of Pizan) to remain pious. The "modern" chapters (which concern the weeks after January, 1901) are too convoluted. Perhaps in some novel it is possible to join regicide, the industrial revolution, costuming, boy gangs, child exploitation, mill disasters, prostitution, and wife-beating—but it's really a bit too much for this novel to hold.

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

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, December 2018

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]