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by Ashley Gardner
Berkley, July 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0425210863

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Late spring of 1817 is not a good time for young women to go walking alone in Covent Garden. Captain Gabriel Lacey's ex sergeant, Pomeroy, now a Bow Street Magistrate, tells Lacey that a street girl has gone missing. She hasn't been seen for a week. And a couple of girls from Wapping have also disappeared. The body of a pregnant one has been found in the Thames. The other was last seen in Covent Garden. Lacey agrees to look for them. If he finds anything about them and Pomeroy is able to capture a guilty party, then Pomeroy will get a stipend.

While walking through Covent Garden, Lacey sees a young Frenchwoman buying peaches. He helps her with the fruit monger who was trying to cheat her, when her mother appears. Her mother is Carlotta, Lacey's ex-wife, and the girl is 17-year-old Gabriella, Lacey's daughter, who he hasn't seen for 15 years, ever since Carlotta decamped with a French officer, just as Lacey was preparing to return to England from the Napoleonic wars on the continent.

Lacey has been befriended by the wealthy Lucius Grenville, who helps in his enquiries. Marianne Simmons, Grenville's mistress, is also a friend of Lacey's. In fact, Gabriel and Marianne share secrets, which Simmons is afraid to tell Lucius, despite Lacey's advice.

Recently widowed Lady Donata Breckenridge has become Lacey's mistress. Carlotta has been brought to England so Lacey can divorce her. The eminence gris behind these machinations is a man who seems to run all the criminal activities in the area but has never been caught. He wants Lacey to work for him.

Covent Garden in 1817 is not the yuppified precinct it is today, rather it was a market area with many lower class types abounding. Street girls, fruit, vegetable and flower sellers, pickpockets, and even some upper class types wandered the narrow streets. The claustrophobic dangers of the area are well delineated in Gardner's book. But she also has people in those streets who we care about. This is one of the best recent books set in Regency London that I know of. It is not necessary to read the books in order. I've skipped some and find that this book stands alone.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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