Having heard nothing but the best about Tasha Alexander's Victorian mystery novels I finally got my hands on one. Let me say that I am both pleased and disappointed. The book starts of extremely well as we meet Emily, a well to do Victorian flower, who's just accepted a marriage proposal from one of England's most eligible bachelors. As Emily herself tells us in the opening paragraphs her decision to wed has little to do with love and a great deal to do with her insufferable mother. Unlike most single girls her age, Emily is content sitting at home reading a good book or stimulating her mind in any way. Unfortunately for her, her mother's every breath is spent trying to get her married soon. It soon gets to be too much and Emily, rather on impulse, accepts the marriage proposal. As fate would have it, no sooner is Emily married than her husband leaves for one of his legendary African hunts. The man, it seems to Emily, is interested in absolutely nothing but hunting and she resigns herself to being married to a man she knows absolutely nothing about.
It turns out she won't get the chance to get to know her husband and he never returns from his latest hunt. She is informed that he died of some sort of fever. Being all but a complete stranger to her late husband she feels little, if anything for his death and actually starts getting used to being a widow. For the first time in her life she is the property of no one and can make decision for herself. She takes to widowhood extremely well. Until she meets with Phillips' best friend Colin a year and a half into her mourning. Emily always figured that she was as much a stranger to her husband as she was to him. According to Colin it turns out that Philip had fallen madly in love with his wife from the moment he met her and until his dying breath simply adored her. This comes as a complete shock to Emily since they hardly had time to speak before he left in his last trip and their letters, mostly on her side, were rather impersonal.
Thus Emily embarks on a journey to get to know the man who was her husband. Along the way she falls in the middle of some shady business that is somehow connected to her husband.
The first part of the novel is spent mostly on Emily's dealing first with the freedom that comes with widowhood, then with her mortification for not being sadder that her husband died and also with her quest to find out everything she can about the man who loved her so. This is the part I enjoyed the most as Tasha's writing flows effortlessly and she sucks you into the story from page one. Emily was a likable enough heroine who slowly stars falling in love with her dead husband.
As the novel moves more towards the mystery we find that Emily has, expectedly, changed but not always for the better. While at first she was motivated by wanting to know about Philip as the story progresses more and more does she start doing things just to go against society. Colin tries to warn her about the dangerous path she has chosen while investigating just what Philip was involved in and, instead of trying to think things through she spurns his advice simply because she doesn't like to be told what to do.
I felt that she started quite practical and mature but became childish as the story moved deeper into the mystery. I understand that she relishes being a widow because she enjoys the freedom of being able to do what she wants and when she wants but there is a line to be drawn at acting stupid. The story is told from her point of view so the reader doesn't get any extra insight of who the good or bad guys are. We are basically along with Emily for the ride yet I felt from the beginning which characters seemed trustworthy and which she needed to stay away from they were so obviously not good. I do believe if she wasn't trying to go against anyone she perceived wanted to tell her what to do she would have shown better judgment. As it was I actually skipped a few pages near the second half of the story since I couldn't stand her righteousness.
Thankfully I liked Tasha's writing and the romance triangle between Colin, Emily and Andrew kept me interested even when Emily was pissing me off. The mystery was fun as well although not exactly a great big mystery it was rather well presented.
In the end I enjoyed the novel regardless of Emily's stupid moments in the later half. I think this book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves a well written book, a nice romance and a nice little mystery.
A 4 out of 5.
I will be reading the next book in the series since I am interested in following Emily in other adventures. Hopefully she learned her lesson the first time around.