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by Tasha Alexander
William Morrow, October 2005
320 pages
ISBN: 0060756713

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This charming mystery was a welcome respite from my usual blood, gore and psychological suspense. AND ONLY TO DECEIVE is the first novel from Tasha Alexander, a fresh new voice in historical mystery. Alexander puts forth an intriguing question -- why aren't art forgeries considered true art?

Emily, Lady Ashton, has been widowed after only six months of marriage. She accepted the proposal of Phillip, the Viscount Ashton, in an attempt to free herself from her meddling mother, a society matron who gives matchmaking mothers all over a positive aspect.

The woman is overbearing and ridiculous, and the conflict between Emily and her mother immediately allows the reader to understand Emily's desire to marry as a means of escape. In the best of all possible scenarios for the strong-willed girl, Phillip dies of yellow fever on safari in Africa, leaving her in possession of a large fortune, several homes, and no idea who her husband really was.

During the two years Emily must mourn her dead husband, she begins to read his journals and get to know his friends. She is shocked to learn that Philip was madly in love with her. He called her Kallista -- which means 'most beautiful' in Greek. This strikes a romantic chord with the young girl, and she begins actively seeking information about the Viscount. Her intellectual pursuits, learning ancient Greek, reading Homer, attending lectures, is completely at odds with the proper functions of Victorian society, and Emily breaks the rules gleefully in pursuit of the truth surrounding her husband's life before her. Before long, Emily is hopelessly and completely in love -- with her dead husband.

At the heart of the story are the antiquities. Greek vases, statues, friezes; the art stars in the show, and the reader is successfully educated as to their importance and beauty without feeling lectured. Emily is entranced with the art, and soon discovers a nasty secret. Forgeries of some of the greatest pieces of antiquity are housed in the world's most famous museums, while the originals live in private collections. To her dismay, her late husband seems to have been involved in this practice, and Emily must learn the truth behind the scheme in order to clear or condemn Philip's name.

Attended to by a deep cast of characters, including her husband's two best friends, who are completely enamored of the young widow, Emily is a delightful addition to the Victorian scene. Alexander has done a wonderful job of capturing the sense of the era but not allowing the reader to drown in the proprieties.

The book reads quickly, the writing sharp and witty, the story entertaining. I didn't want to put it down, and when I finished, I had to pull out copies of PRIDE and PREJUDICE and THE ILIAD; Alexander's writing made me remember why I became an English major in the first place. It's for the books. AND ONLY TO DECEIVE could easily become one of the classics.

Reviewed by J. T. Ellison, January 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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