Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Fatal Waltz

I'm pretty methodical, and I like reading series in order.  And when I say "like" I mean "I go to lengths to avoid reading series out of order."  Somehow, I bought books 3 and 4 instead of 2 and 3 in the Lady Emily Ashton mysteries while I was Christmas shopping and didn't realize it until I was a few chapters into A Fatal Waltz.  

The novel opens at a shooting party hosted by the unbearable Basil, Lord Fortescue and attended by Emily's oldest friend Ivy Brandon, Ivy's husband Robert (Lord Fortescue's political protege), Emily's fiance Colin Hargraves, and Colin's former lover Kristiana von Lange.  Because this is a mystery, we need a dead body and Lord Fortescue complies, shortly after a public argument with Robert.  As Emily tries to clear her friend's name, Colin tries to stop an anarchist plot that would start WWI 15 years earlier.  Both plots lead to Vienna, where Emily (with the help of French grand dame Cecile du Lac and childhood friend Jeremy Sheffield) and Colin (with the help of Kirstiana) piece together the parallel mysteries.  

Colin's mystery wasn't as interesting or as tightly written as Emily's, and its main purpose was to provide a few key pieces of information Emily needed to clear Robert's name.  They mysteries, though, are really just a background for the fun.  Emily experiences Vienna cafe society, Cecile has an understated affair (one of many) with the artist who is painting her portrait, Jeremy plays the useless aristocrat while nursing a crush, and Emily's mother Catherine, Lady Bromley blows in at hurricane force, bragging about finding Prince Eddy a bride and arranging for Emily to marry in the Queen's presence.  A slightly better than average mystery folded into a meringue of a smart historical romance.

Girl in a Box

About 2/3 of the way through Girl in a Box, I realized that even though it was published in 2006, I haven't seen the next Rei Shimura mystery.  Have I reached the end of another series?  I checked and it turns out I haven't - there's one more volume, but that's probably a good thing.  I've enjoyed the series, but Massey may have written herself into a box.

Rei Shimura started the series as an English teacher in Tokyo, became an antiques dealer, and as of The Typhoon Lover has become a spy of sorts, working for a shadow intelligence agency which apparently has only one other employee, ex-Navy officer Michael Hendricks.  Her mission (which she chooses to accept) is to infiltrate a Tokyo department store with questionable profits and possible links to US businesses.  It's an interesting premise, and Massey keeps the plot fairly tight for about 3/4 of the book.  Unfortunately, it feels a bit like she rushed the ending, leaving the conclusion somewhat confusing and the evolving relationship between Rei and Michael feeling like it was grafted onto a completed novel.   Perhaps Massey realized that she had to start winding up the series - and maybe that's why I got the feeling around page 200 that this might be the last Rei Shimura mystery.