Monday, November 28, 2011
No detection team was ever more mismatched: Julian Kestrel, the debonair and elegant Regency dandy, and Sally Stokes, a bold and bewitching Cockney prostitute and thief. But one night Fate throws them together, giving them the only clue that can unmask a diabolical killer. It all starts in London's notorious Haymarket district, where Sally picks up three men one after the other and nicknames them Bristles, Blue Eyes, and Blinkers. From each of them Sally steals a handkerchief - and from one she mistakenly steals a letter that contains an urgent appeal for help as well. But which man did she get the letter from? Who is the distraught young woman who wrote it? And where is she being held against her will? These questions take on a new urgency when Sally finds the writer of the letter - dead. Luckily, Sally's brother is none other than Dipper, reformed pickpocket and now valet to gifted amateur sleuth Julian Kestrel. The authorities dismiss the girl's death as suicide, but to Kestrel it looks more like murder. To prove it, he must track down Bristles, Blue Eyes, and Blinkers, and find out which of them had the dead girl's letter. Sally uses all her ingenuity and daring to help Kestrel solve this case. But she is out to solve another mystery as well: Is there a man of flesh and blood under Kestrel's impeccable clothes?
I loved the first book in this Regency mystery series, Cut to the Quick, which introduced us to the dapper Julian Kestrel, a gentleman in London famous for the cut of his clothes and good taste. Having solved a murder mystery in Cut to the Quick, he is now somewhat famous as an amateur sleuth. In A Broken Vessel we pick up with Julian again, as well as with his valet, Dipper, a former pickpocket whose proud to have left his old career for a new and respectable one. Julian and Dipper make a good pair, but I had a tough time getting into this mystery. Instead of a pair, there was a threesome that developed - and it made me uneasy.
Sally Stokes is a prostitute who is also Dipper's sister. From the detailed book description above you get the gist of what takes place. Sally gets around and picked up three different men in one night. She likes to steal a little something from them - a handkerchief usually, as she did with each of these three men on this one particular evening. But, she fingers a letter too, written by an unknown lady which sets in motion the mystery. Who is the writer of the letter, which is a plea to come rescue her from some place - where? That same evening, one of Sally's customers beats her up and Dipper brings her back to Julian's to patch her up. She winds up staying there until she's better and discovers the letter among her things. She brings it to Julian and Dippers attention and they all take an interest in it. In a short amount of time they investigate the possibilities and are able to determine the location of the young lady. It is a house where fallen women can go to turn their backs on their former lives and become good Christians again through hard work and prayer.
The mystery thickens as Sally volunteers to pretend she wants to be "saved" and goes to the house to see if she can find out who wrote the letter. Whoever it was seems to have been a lady, which makes it all the more odd and mysterious. Julian feels honor bound to try and discover how he may be able to help this poor young lady who obviously is ashamed and afraid to go to her family. Something terrible must have happened that made her take such a drastic step which led to this house of redemption.
Meanwhile, Julian is developing an unseemly attraction to Sally, which he is resisting, being the gentleman he is. But, Sally is hot and heavy for him as well! Still, Julian tells her no, he must not and Sally understands and stops throwing herself at him. But, once Julian seemed to have made up his mind to resist her, it made him think of her all the more! This made me a bit uneasy for 1) I didn't like the idea of Julian actually having any kind of lasting attachment to a prostitute, no matter how charming she can be and 2) She's Dipper's sister, and I felt it was a bit creepy for Julian to contemplate something with Sally when Dipper is his friend and valet! The whole thing just didn't bode well for me. It was off.
Back to the mystery side of the story... When Sally first goes to the house for fallen women, she finds out the person who wrote the letter has just died the night before - by poisoning herself. No one knew who she really was, for she would not divulge her real name. The house is in an uproar over it and after much discussion with Dipper and Julian Sally returns a week or so later and is admitted in as an "inmate." Sally learns all sorts of things while there, picking up loads of clues. It soon becomes apparent that the young lady who killed herself was probably murdered to make it look like a suicide. The plot becomes more and more complex and it was clever, but I grew weary of Sally, Sally, Sally for a great part of the book centers on her while in the house - with no Julian or Dipper in sight. This Julian Kestrel mystery was turning into a Sally Stokes mystery instead - and I didn't like it!
As much as Sally was a game girl and a daring rookie sleuth, I expected there to be more of Julian and Dapper's end of the story. Still, the mystery was a good one, well thought out and complex, though it seemed to be bunched up in the end with lengthy explanations of why and who did what. A recap of motives and background that grew a little tiresome. To add to my chagrin - Julian proves he can only take so much. He is a man after all - a man who cannot resist temptation - Sally finally gets her way.
Overall, I would have preferred that a relationship between Julian and Sally had not developed into a sexual one. I'm all for sexual tension building which I think would have been better between them. I really thought it was unbelievable that Julian succumbed and took her to his bed, and even a little skeevy when her own brother, Dipper liked the idea his sister was sleeping with his employer (though Sally and Julian tried to hide it from him.) I don't know, I guess I prefer my Regency English gentlemen to do the honorable thing and pay for their prostitutes rather than become their boyfriends!
Still, I won't let this minor indiscretion stop me from continuing on in the series - as long as Sally is not going to be front and center in the future. Her mysterious departure at the end of this book gives me hope!