Author: Carol K. Carr
I have reviewed the book just prior in the series, India Black and the Widow of Windsor (click here) and found I was looking forward to reading this addition to the series. I am counting this towards my Historical Mystery Reading Challenge, which you can still join (click here).
Copyright: February 2013 (Berkley) 321 pgs
Series: 3rd in Madam of Espionage Mystery
Sensuality: Some adult conversation and innuendo (period euphemisms)
Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Espionage
Main Characters: India Black, madam of the London brothel, Lotus House, catering to gentlemen and part-time British Spy
Setting: 1876, London and Scottland
Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review
Prime Minister Disraeli summons India to his office, to meet with him and Superintendent Stoke of Scotland Yard. Anarchists are on a killing spree, murdering lords and earls in a reign of terror. Disraeli and Stoke want India to work solo and infiltrate the anarchist group called the Dark Legion to determine who the leader is, and put a stop to the killings. India has to steal a "working girl" with connections to the Dark Legion away from a lesser class brothel and win her trust to get introduced to the Dark Legion. This enrages the Madam of the other brothel and has several attempts to teach her a lesson, while India walks a dangerous path with the paranoid anarchists plotting large scale attacks to bring Britain's government to her knees. She still finds time to concern herself with French and their nebulous kinda-sorta relationship. On top of all this, India is trying to uncover her deceased mother's genealogy since the last book had the Marchioness of Tullibardine mention knowing India's mother.
India is a hard as nails character who grabs at the chance to prove herself as a spy. She is resilient, making it through several attempts on her life while keeping cool infiltrating the Dark Legion. She multitasks continuously, juggling her business, spying, searching for her mother's history, and trying to figure French, the man who recruited her, and his secrets out. She has an honest and dry sense of humor that had me laughing often. French is even more of an enigma in this book. It seems the more that is revealed about French, the more questions there are. Vincent, the smelly street urchin that idolizes French, is utilized often in this operation and he proves handy - if only he would bathe. I find I don't care for India's drunken cook - Mrs. Drinkwater, but that is a small hiccup. The anarchists are each interesting, the debonair Frenchman Bonnaire, or the emotionally unhinged Russian Flerko are just a few, but Thick Ed - the bomb maker, is the surprise in that bunch. For being a basic secondary character, he is meticulously drawn and you want to understand him and what motivates him.
London is portrayed in all her deplorable conditions and her glory in this book. From fancy homes to Seven Dials slums, it is all here bringing the time period, the politics, and the class divisions on display.
The plot is convincing and there is a great sense of immediacy throughout the book. India feels the pressure of this sensitive and tricky operation and comes up with several good strategies, showing her worth as a spy. The Dark Legion scenario is convincing and the need to thwart such a lethal group would be imperative to any government. The pacing remained steady and kept me flipping pages throughout.
The climax was top notch, which is saying something for the level of tension throughout the book makes a satisfying ending a challenge. This was Hitchcock level suspense for the climax and the wrap-up leaves the reader dangling on India's mother and French with a promise of surprises to come.
Top notch historical espionage with danger lurking in every shadow and surprises and twists keeping the reader on his or her toes. Excellent writing, snarky humor, solid characters, and witty dialog. I found this one better than the last book and hope that India will be given more assignments that give her abilities credit. I do believe I am hooked.
Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.