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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Review - City of Scoundrels

Today I review the newest in the Counterfeit Lady historical mysteries.  Previously I reviewed the first in the series -- "City of Lies" (click here)  and the second book "City of Secrets" (click here).  The timing of this book is uncanny since it features the pandemic of 1918.  So how is the series doing now that we are into the third book?  Let's find out.

Author: Victoria Thompson

Copyright: Nov 2019 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Counterfeit Lady Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth, historical caper

Main Character: Elizabeth Miles, smart and cunning con-artist using her skills to help people.

Setting: 1917, Washington DC

Obtained Through: Publisher (via Netgalley) for honest opinion

From the book cover: "Elizabeth Miles finds herself in a position no con can help her escape. Her beloved fiancé, Gideon Bates, is awaiting his turn in the draft to fight in the Great War. Elizabeth is finding it hard to think of anything else, but Gideon has thrown himself into his work, preparing wills for soldiers before they ship out. Corporal Tom Preston is part owner of Preston Shoes, a company that is making footwear for the army, so he has a rather large estate. He needs a new will, however, because he has just been secretly married to a woman whom his family would never approve. He wants to make sure she and their unborn child are provided for if he does not return.

When Tom is later reported killed, Elizabeth and Gideon learn that the new will has gone missing after Tom's bride revealed her identity to his family. Unless the new will is found and validated, the original will, which leaves everything to Tom's brother, will prevail and the wife and child will get nothing. If Tom's new bride survives, that is. Some terrible threats have been leveled against her, and Elizabeth and Gideon must figure out a way, legal or not quite, to secure Tom's fortune for his wife and child while saving her life in the process."

Elizabeth Miles can't help but revert to a good con against the heartless, greedy, and dangerous inlaws of widow Rose.  She is whip smart and resourceful and becomes a central player in the con to stop a German spy ring along the way.  Mrs Bates is an older lady who took Elizabeth under her wing and knows she isn't a legitimate society lady.  Gideon Bates, Mrs. Bates son and a lawyer, is Elizabeth's fiance and is waiting to report for the war. 
Anna Vanderslice is a kind society girl who has become Elizabeth's best friend and whose brother, David, is Gideon's best friend.  Mr. Miles, Elizabeth's con man father, is key to the con to protect the widow Rose and get her rightful inheritance.  The relationship between the Elizabeth and Gideon is the most compelling aspect of the series

This story unfolds in the midst of WWI and the influenza outbreak know as the Spanish Flu pandemic that claimed between 50 million to 100 million worldwide.  Both the war and the pandemic draw too close to Elizabeth and those she loves.  Additionally, the American Protection League was an active all-volunteer organization utilized by President Wilson primarily to curb any anti-war activists but included identifying German sympathizers, anarchists, and labor organizations.  The APL created a fearful atmosphere.  These true historical events taking place around the story and impacting the characters makes this even more gripping and realistic.

The climax involves Elizabeth in great danger because of the con to catch German spies.  The wrapup involves the pandemic striking close to Elizabeth and Gideon's time to ship out for war.

I read this novel the end of October but am just getting to the review.  It is ironic how the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is a strong element in this story and from the author's notes you find several actual accounts from that pandemic were incorporated into the story making it quite chilling.  The relationship between Elizabeth and Gideon is deepening on both sides and gives warmth to the characters.  The two pronged con to help Rose and also stop a German spy ring is brilliant.  This is a finely woven story that grabs hold and doesn't let go.

Rating:   Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Here is a short video about the 1918 pandemic.

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