New & Noteworthy
Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander is as well-done as a good steak, but there’s more to this suspense novel than the mystery it includes.
As we all know, throughout most of history women generally had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men. Wifehood and motherhood were regarded as women’s most significant professions. In the 20th century, however, women in most nations won the right to vote and increased their educational and job opportunities. They fought for and to a large degree accomplished a reevaluation of traditional views of their role in society. The latter part of the 19th century saw many interesting events take place as women made their voices heard and struggled for equality.
Dangerous to Know is set in France in 1892 but its main protagonist, Lady Emily, is an Englishwoman. She’s not willing to be just a housewife and mother, although she is a wife and wants to be a mother. She also wants the same rights as her husband and to live without being thought of as a freak because she wants those things.
But I should not get ahead of myself. This is, after all a mystery–the newest in the Lady Emily Hargreaves series of Victorian mysteries.
After escaping death at the hands of a ruthless murderer while honeymooning in Constantinople (Tears of Pearl), Lady Emily is recuperating from her wounds at her mother-in-law’s estate in Normandy. While out horseback riding in the countryside, she comes across the body of a young woman who has been horribly murdered. Her wounds are identical to those inflicted on the victims of Jack the Ripper, who is wreaking havoc across the channel in London. Lady Emily and husband Colin learn the victim is the daughter of a high born family of French aristocrats who had been committed to an asylum for the insane. While there, she had given birth to an illegitimate child who was spirited away and may be dead.
As Lady Emily pursues a trail of clues (and bodies) to the beautiful medieval city of Rouen and a crumbling chateau in the country, she begins to worry about her own sanity: she hears the cries of a little girl she cannot find and discovers blue ribbons left in the child’s wake. Emily is on the verge of solving the mystery, when she is suddenly taken captive by the killer and held in an isolated tower where she once again hears the eerie cries of the lost child. She has to muster all her courage in a terrifying game of wits against a cold and brilliant murderer or she will be his next victim.
There are enough colorful characters in this novel to keep any reader happy but the most interesting are Emily and Colin. Colin is much-more open-minded than most Englishman of the century, and though he truly sees his wife as his equal, he is not always willing to treat her as one.
To be fair, however, it is his concern for her welfare that causes his reluctance. After all, he’s almost lost her before!
Colin is not afraid to let his domineering mother know Emily comes first in his life and even the superior Lady Hargreaves eventually realizes what her son sees in Emily. Lady Hargreaves can come off as stuck-up and superior, but underneath the autocratic exterior beats the heart of a woman who wants to see others of her gender succeed and is also quite interested in politics. Just because she is at her summer home in Normandy doesn’t mean she’s not keeping her eye on the political situation back home in England.
Together Colin (who works for the Crown) and Emily make a crack detective team. Lady Hargreaves turns out to be no slouch in this department either. When everyone decides to work together to solve the mystery, all the pieces of the puzzle fit into place.
Alexander has crafted a good mystery, one that will keep you turning the pages and will even surprise you in the end. At least, she surprised me. I love it when an author manages to surprise me!