Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tears of Pearl

Genre fiction doesn't get enough respect.  While we've all come across mysteries, romances, and fantasies which weren't good novels but "ticked the boxes," more often the authors write good books within the limitations of the genre.  When an author only succeeds on one front, I prefer that the result be a good novel with a fair mystery than the other way around.  Tears of Pearl is an enjoyable novel, but not much of a mystery.

Lady Emily and Colin Hargraves have eloped and endured a month-long visit with her parents.  En route to Constantinople on the Orient Express, they meet Sir Richard Clare, a diplomat who makes an impression on them by losing important papers and then taking an accidental overdose of chloral hydrate during dinner.  Since this is a mystery, there must be a body and Emily stumbles across one after attending an opera at the Sultan's castle.  The dead woman was one of the Sultan's concubines - and also Sir Richard's long lost daughter, and (as usually happens in mysteries), one death leads to another.  As Colin investigates through diplomatic channels, Emily gets permission to play sleuth in the harem, solving the mystery as she walks in the footsteps of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

I found the mystery rather unsatisfying - I figured out the killer's identity about 40 pages too early, and the motive seemed far-fetched.  Lady Emily, though, is a wonderful character - adventuress, autodidact, fashion plate, devoted friend, and madly in love with a man who loves her even more.  She's someone I'd like to be, and Tears of Pearl succeeds as a romance and a travelogue through late-19th Century Constantinople.  I guess it's best described as an upper-level beach book - well-written but escapist - in which there just happens to be a crime.

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