In the fourth installment of the Lady Emily mystery series, Tears of Pearl, Tasha Alexander takes us on an exciting journey to Constantinople, where Lady Emily and her now-husband Colin Hargreaves (I’m so glad they finally tied the knot!) attempt to relax on a peaceful honeymoon away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. However, Lady Emily can’t seem to catch a break, as mystery and suspense seem to have traveled with her (and her luggage) to Constantinople. Following an evening at the opera, Emily and Colin are witnesses to the discovery of a murdered harem girl’s body. As the ranking English citizen at the scene, Colin is assigned to the investigation, and is able to secure the Crown’s permission to have Lady Emily assist in the case. The Crown is a little hesitant in allowing her to help Colin, but realize they need a female to gain access to the women of the harem. Even with their misgivings it appears to be an excellent choice, as Lady Emily prepares to do what she does best: solve seemingly impossible mysteries. She explores the harem girl’s family history and discovers that her father is a British diplomat, and that she had been abducted from his care many years prior. She goes on to find even more interesting facts about harem life, all which make the murder seem not quite so out of the blue. Add to all of this the possibility that Emily could be pregnant and you’ve got one hell of a story to follow.
While still a solid book, Alexander’s Tears of Pearl felt like it lost a bit of its shine at some points. Emily spends most of the book wondering whether or not she could be pregnant and reeling with thoughts on what having a child could do not only to her independence, but also to her ability to work with Colin. While these were realistic things for her to be thinking about, the constant thought of “Could I be pregnant? Could I be pregnant?” got old after a while. If she’s intelligent enough to solve murders and learn multiple languages in a short amount of time, I’m pretty sure that she could figure out conclusive signs of being pregnant. It felt at times like the mystery was being put into the background while we dealt with the possible pregnancy.
Aside from this debate the remainder of the book is wonderful. Its lush portrait of Constantinople had me eagerly adding Turkey as a destination to visit on my bucket list. Not only were the descriptions of Constantinople’s palaces and temples wonderful, but the dialogue about their social customs was intriguing as well. I’ve said in the past that these novels made me feel smarter upon completion. Tears of Pearl is no different; the conversations that Emily has with the women of the harem are fascinating! You get to hear what others thought about the strictness of British society on women, and how they found it stifling. Of course I found this comical (as did Lady Emily), coming from women living in a harem. Yes, they were allowed an education, but the highest social position that they could rise to was a position entitled Valide Sultan. All this meant was that you were the sultan’s mother, and as such had more control than other women did. The debates between Emily and the harem women on how their social customs were better than each other’s were enlightening conversations that have led me to do more research on the customs of the Ottoman Empire.
Historical fiction novels that are meticulous in research are my favorite kinds. Not only do they offer you an escape from the world we currently live in, but they offer you a chance at learning about another, entirely different, frame of time. Alexander’s books fit the above description to a T, and as such have earned a spot on my “favorites” shelf. They’re obviously scrupulously researched and offer insight into social customs, art, literature, and so much more. If you’re looking for intelligent adventures with mystery and sleuthing thrown in, then the Lady Emily series is the best choice!
4 out of 5 Stars
This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge
This is my first completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge
Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
St. Martin’s Press (2010)
Paperback 352 pages
For those who have been reading the series and are interested, Tasha wrote a short story which serves as a prequel to Tears of Pearl, titled Emily and Colin’s Wedding. The entire story can be found here