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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: And Only to Deceive

Title: And Only to Deceive
Author: Tasha Alexander
Page Count: 321 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review from my public library

From gifted new writer Tasha Alexander comes a stunning novel of historical suspense set in Victorian England, meticulously researched and with a twisty plot that involves stolen antiquities, betrayal, and murder. For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily's dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek. Emily's intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband's favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.

I took this book to the beach and almost burned my butt from being so engrossed I forgot to turn over.  There are so many great elements to this story that I was super excited to find that several other installments of the series are already in print- no waiting for me!

Lady Emily, in addition to having an excellent name (har har,) also has excellent powers of observation and a mind that is decidedly her own, to her mother's eternal frustration.  She finds herself in the predicament of being a young widow with options- her husband died on safari in Africa and she now must decide what to do with the rest of her life.  The most common option was to get married again as soon as propriety would allow; Emily decides to take some time and figure out what would make her happy, since she is now a woman of means and resources who doesn't need to be chaperoned, since she is a widow.

By reading his journal, Emily comes to the surprising realization that her dead husband, far from being just a good match, actually really loved her, and by discovering his character after he's gone she finally falls in love with him, something she admits never happened while he was alive.  Realizing that she's been deprived of actual marital happiness with Philip galvanizes her to seek justice for his death, since she figures out that it wasn't a deadly disease that killed him in Africa.

Emily is a great narrator in the story and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the people around her.  She's constantly observing things and filing facts away for later, and she realizes that her actions and decisions wouldn't even register as options if she were a) not a widow and b) not rich.  She's very aware that the rigid rules of her society affect everything and that playing outside those rules is not necessarily a good idea.  Instead, she strives to be unique, and to use her position to pursue her own happiness.  There are hints at a future romance, especially near the end of the book, that I'm looking forward to watch develop, although I freely admit that I peeked at future books in the library and already know what's going to happen.  Neener neener.

As if the mystery and the well-drawn characters weren't enough, there are lots of interesting tidbits about the study of antiquities and the flourishing black market for knockoffs that existed at the time.  Ethical issues are raised and it's up to the reader to decide how he or she feels about them; for their part the characters have their own opinions and those opinions are what drive the story.

With plenty of beach weather ahead, I'm looking forward to bringing future installments to the beach and getting caught up on the series as soon as possible.

Overall Grade:

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