Good friend of the blog Laurel Ann Nattress (founder of Austenprose and newly published editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It) recently sent me the newest book in the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander to review. When I signed on to review A Crimson Warning I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were five other books published beforehand. Having never read any of the Lady Emily mysteries I said “why not?” and jumped in headfirst with book one: And Only To Deceive.
Being a woman in the Victorian Era, Emily Bromley’s main social obligation is to marry and have children. Call her ahead of her time, but she thinks nothing of this prospect, and is practically forced to marry the wealthy Viscount Philip Ashton just to escape her mother. A few months after the wedding, Philip is killed on safari in Africa, and Emily feels guilty in being more relieved than remorseful about his death. Now independently wealthy due to her inheritance of his estate, she takes up a study of ancient Greek literature and antiquities upon finding out about Philip’s intense interest in these subjects. She is extremely surprised to come across his journals detailing how in love with her he was, as well as some strange entries about antiquities. As she learns more about these subjects as well as Philip himself, she begins to realize that not is all as it seems. She discovers evidence of sly business dealings, as well as stories about Philip from his friends that don’t seem to add up. Now it is up to Emily to uncover the truth about her husband and bring the details of his death in Africa to light. Will she be able to do all this without being discovered by those who may have harmed Philip?
Lady Emily is a breath of fresh air on the heroine front. She’s wonderfully charming, yet fiercely intelligent, pushing the boundaries and limits of what women were allowed to do back in the day. She refuses to be placed into a certain social box, instead forging her own path, surrounding herself with friends who will accept her for who she is becoming. I also like that she tries to influence the other women she knows to think in a more intellectual manner, and have a voice of their own rather than just accepting their husbands’ as their own. She refuses to believe that all women are good for are being wives. She studies Greek, art history, mythology, and much more, allowing her new-found knowledge to expand who she is. (Sound like an Austen heroine?)
The pace of the novel was absolutely excellent; there was never any feeling of boredom or plot dragging. Everything kept me enthralled in the mystery, eagerly trying to figure out who was responsible for the missing original artifacts. Being an avid reader, I also enjoyed the little discussions that were thrown in here and there between characters about different literature opinions. The Odyssey is one of my favorite books of all time, so all of the discussion about it was a pleasure to read. Alexander is a gifted writer of dialogue, moving most of the book along through conversation, rather than narrative overtures.
I’d like to think that if Jane Austen and Agatha Christie ever wrote novels together, Tasha Alexander’s works would be the result. With Austen-like heroines and intelligent mysteries a la Christie, Alexander made a hell of a debut with And Only To Deceive. If you’ve never heard of the Lady Emily novels (I’m still smacking myself that I never did) I heartily recommend giving them a try. Alexander will have you on the edge of your seat from cover to cover, eager to pick up the next book in the series immediately after.
5 out of 5 Stars
And Only To Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Harper Collins (2006)
Paperback 336 pages