Sunday, March 28, 2010

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Book Description:
In this charming late Victorian romantic suspense novel, Emily, a young and beautiful widow, regrets her husband's African hunting expedition death less than is proper. The late Philip, Viscount Ashton, had a passion for classical antiquity, and Emily, in an attempt to get to know her husband postmortem, uses her newfound independence in London to study it. In the process, she forms a friendship with Cecile du Lac, a Parisian of a certain age, and realizes that there was more to Philip than she realized - including his genuine passion and love for her. The charming Colin Hargreaves may have been involved with Philip in art forgeries, and Andrew Palmer proposes to Emily and then offers evidence that Philip is still alive. By this time, Emily and Cecile are a well-practiced team of amateur sleuths: Philip's secrets begin to emerge, and travel to Greece provides the possibilities of a new life. Alexander makes Emily light but sympathetic, and conveys period flavor without being ponderous. Her knowledge of the ethical dilemmas posed by Victorian etiquette is considerable; sexual chemistry in particular is handled with exquisite delicacy. The archaeological background will lure readers who like to dig for their clues. - Publishers Weekly

What a surprise! I loved this historical mystery and devoured it in one day! A quick read, it's an elegant story of the wealthy and beautiful widow, Lady Emily Ashton who finds herself in the unfortunate circumstance of falling in love with her husband after his death, rather than before. Married for only a brief period of time, it is only after her husband has died of fever while on an African safari that she really gets to know him. Through friends and his journals and letters she pieces together the man that he was and deeply regrets not having known him better while they were newlyweds. But, as she learns more about the man and his interests, she uncovers the truth of a lie he was living - or was it a lie?

Lady Emily, widowed for a year, is eager to discover more about the man she barely knew. The man who loved her and called her Kallista, though not to her knowledge while he was living. She'd had no idea of his love for her. She married him more as a way to get away from her mother, rather than because she wanted to marry him. Guilt ridden, she takes on his interests beginning with his love of Greece. She reads The Iliad, developing a love for the prose and spends a great deal of time at the British Museum studying the nuances and design of ancient Greek vases and the like. She learns about the ancient antiquities her husband collected but discovers much to her alarm that many of the vases and artifacts he had donated to the Museum were not the originals, they were forgeries - while the originals were kept at his family estate! How could he do this? Was he a cheat and a fraud?

As the story develops, Emily is befriended by many of Philip's old big game hunting friends, in particular, the handsome Colin Hargreaves and the irreverent but amusing Andrew Palmer, the son of another collector of antiquities. Both men begin to play a large role in Emily's life and are front and center in the mystery she is trying to solve about the truth of what kind of man her late husband was. Both men are up to something - but how and what? The story kept my interest, though it became clear to me immediately who the culprit was, but I was still left to determine why and what were the motives. I had to read on! It all played out wonderfully, the mixing of the mystery with the antiquities and the well done characterizations of everyone involved made it hard for me to put down. An effortless read!

The setting goes back and forth between Paris and London of the late 1880's. The style and historical descriptions were beautiful and lavish. Accurate and evocative of the times, Ms. Alexander's writing is light, not overly wordy, yet full of imagery. A real pleasure! I longed for a relationship to develop between Emily and Colin, though impossible due to the strictures of Victorian mourning, although the reader is left with a few tantalizing tidbits. There is plenty of attraction between the two of them that bodes well for future books, even though I felt Colin made his intentions known to Emily much too soon. Playing hard to get doesn't hurt and keeps the storyline interesting and compelling, at least on the romance front.

One particular point of the book that I loved was how The Iliad was featured, for it is one of my favorite stories. The story of the noble Hector having to fight the spoiled and vain Achilles, even though he knows it will be the death of him and destruction of Troy has always tugged at my heart. I was naturally glad that both Emily and Colin preferred Hector over Achilles for he is my favorite as well (hence, the name for my wonderful and beautiful Golden Retriever!)

I'm eager to read the rest of this series, of which there are about four books to date. Lady Emily is likable and I admire her daring streak - she drinks port! How scandalous! *grin* Even her servants root for her when her dragon of a mother comes to harangue! There is a tingling cliffhanger at the end of And Only to Deceive that makes the reader want to read on and find out what happens next to Lady Emily and her new friends while she is in Santorini at her late husband's estate. I hope the next book takes place in that environs - and I hope we see a lot of Colin Hargreaves as well! I really liked him - I want an inscribed golden apple too!

I highly recommend this book, I'm very happy to have discovered Lady Emily, she is now my new favorite Victorian lady sleuth - move over Lady Julia!



Brittanie said...

I liked this book too. I have the second on my TBR shelf. I was trying to wait until the Victorian Reading Challenge starts again to read it. :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Brittanie, I have the 2nd book on my shelf too, but I'm waiting to read it, I don't want to go through them too quickly, for then I'll have to wait impatiently for the next one to come out! Have you read Deanna Raybourne's books? I like them too, but I thought this was better.

Joanne said...

Fantastic review, Julie! Your write-up makes me want to pull out my copy and read it again.

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and think you will be equally as pleased with book #2, A Poisoned Season (it was my fav of all the books). I loved the way bits and pieces of The Illiad were woven through the story, also; Emily's love of Greek is a theme that continues through all the books. Enjoy!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne, good to know! I was just checking out her website, looks like another book "Dangerous to Know" will be out in October!

Muse in the Fog said...

Great review! This is one of my favorite series, so glad you like it too :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Muse - I'm hearing this alot, I had no idea it was so popular!

Blodeuedd said...

That title made me curious, I like that about titles. Sounds like a nice mystery and yes I am in shock! Drinking port!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Blodeuedd - give it a try, it's the best of it's kind that I've read - yes port - how sinful! ;)

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