Victorian era romantic suspense sounded all sorts of goodness to me so I snatched this one up and settled in. The new to me author did a fantastic job of establishing historical backdrop and an engaging plot from the beginning. It slows down in the middle and comes rushing through at the end. I was left wishing that it wasn’t over and wistfully hoping this is not the last of the author’s efforts at mysteries set in that world and with those characters.
The story opens with Lady Elizabeth Fraser journeying home with her disappointed mother. Elizabeth has been through three London social seasons and didn’t snag a husband and now rumors are rife that her dowry has diminished and even her title and looks won’t be enough. Always impossible to make happy, Elizabeth’s mother makes her feel that it is all Elizabeth’s fault and Elizabeth is careful not to respond to the verbal barbs because her mother’s laudanum habit and her frail emotional state.
But then all thought of her blighted future is pushed aside when a horrendous wreck of their train causes her to first fight to get them out of danger, take care of their injuries and then on impulse, assist the young railroad surgeon with the mounting wounded. Elizabeth’s station in life should prevent her from stepping in, but she wants to be of assistance so she neglects to tell Mr. Wilcox, the surgeon, her title. Helping Paul Wilcox is fulfilling and she enjoys his company, but soon the inevitable happens and he discovers her lie and the great chasm between their social classes pushes them apart.
Not before Elizabeth learns through overhearing Paul’s newspaper friend, Tom Flynn, discuss that the train wreck was no accident, just like the death of the man who was prepared to report on the safety of another line owned by that same railroad. Elizabeth is intrigued and wants to help with the investigation Paul and Tom are involved in particularly when she discovers that her family might have a tie to the situation and Elizabeth is poised in a unique position to help. She has to be circumspect in her assistance because there is not only danger to her reputation, but also to her life if she is discovered. Elizabeth sets all that aside when the stakes grow more dire because Paul is taken up for murder.
The story captured my interest from the beginning. It starts off like a typical Victorian era historical romance and then boom, the train catastrophe and the plot thickens to a juicy mystery. The heroine, Elizabeth, is the first person narrator. She is a product of her times, but there is a spirit of restlessness and adventure in her, too. This helps her draw close to a working class man and engage in detecting with him and his newsman friend, but she never goes too far so that I felt she was an anachronism.
The pace was slow as it built up each part of the background and plot so that when it did move forward everything had it’s reason and made sense. This was something of a cozy mystery as Elizabeth played detective on her end, but it also blended some courtroom drama and political intrigue in for good measure. All the surrounding cast of characters had backstories of their own and significant roles to play. In fact, my one and only niggle is that there were some loose ends with the secondary characters when the book was sort of rushed at the end.
I liked the many layers to the plot. Elizabeth’s growing attraction and budding relationship with Paul was there, but was also backburner stuff due to everything going on. There was also the sad and bitter relationship with her mother. Her family’s history that shadowed the present. Her best friend and her family’s sad situation that also played a part. Then there was the sometimes humorous, but most action part of the story with Elizabeth’s unorthodox and wary partnering with a newspaperman to solve the railroad mystery and conspiracy.
The attention to the historical setting was well done. I liked learning about the railroad building, companies, laws, railroad medical staff and injuries, and how it fit into the other components of Victorian times. It was fascinating and was a huge part of the story, but didn’t dissolve into a dry history lesson the way it was naturally woven into the story.
So, all in all, this was a fantastic read and I most definitely recommend it to those who enjoy a historically accurate story, cunning mystery, mild romance, and engaging characters in their historical romantic suspense.
My thanks to Penguin-Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #162 RS
New to Me #68 author
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