Friday, February 6, 2009

A Flaw in the Blood

I've been reading mysteries for decades, so I don't get 'gotten' very often.  I may not solve the case until near the end, but I'm rarely surprised by a supported solution.  A Flaw in the Blood got me, and did it without cheating.  Chapter 52 is totally improbable, and completely supported by the facts Stephanie Barron scatters throughout the narrative.

Barron also writes the Jane Austen mysteries and A Flaw in the Blood is a change of tone from that series.  The Austen mysteries are epistolary, with Jane writing her adventures in her diary or letters to Cassandra, and part of the fun comes from meeting the 'inspirations' for Austen's characters.  A Flaw in the Blood uses shifting narrators, including Queen Victoria, her daughter Alice, and a London barrister who made his name saving the queen from an early assassination attempt, to obscure both the nature and perpetrator of the crime in question.

The book opens with the aftermath of an unsuccessful suicide attempt by Prince Albert.  18 months later, he lies dying of natural causes and Queen Victoria calls Patrick Fitzgerald to Windsor Castle to disavow any knowledge of the 1840 plot on her life.  He refuses and as he explains the story to his Georgiana Armatrage, a somewhat anachronistic young woman doctor, their carriage overturns, nearly killing them.  This is the work of Barron's least convincing character, Victoria's henchman who all but twirls his mustache as he pursues the pair through England and into France where they encounter Prince Leopold, about whose hemophilia Albert had consulted with Georgiana.

Back in England, Victoria throws herself into the deep mourning that would last until her death while her daughter Alice questions whether Albert actually died of typhoid.  No one else at Windsor contracted the disease, including Alice who nursed him through his illness, and his symptoms weren't typical of typhoid.  Between bouts of hysteria and battles with her second daughter, Victoria reflects on her childhood and her recently deceased mother who was both a duchess in her own right and a political pawn.  As Barron switches between Victoria's memories and Georgiana's outline of the 1860's understanding of hemophilia, Victoria's legitimacy comes into question and we wonder how far a woman raised to be Queen will go to protect her position.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds really good - I think I'm going to look into this one at the library!