In this charming late Victorian romantic suspense novel, Emily, a young and beautiful widow, regrets her husband's African hunting expedition death less than is proper. The late Philip, Viscount Ashton, had a passion for classical antiquity, and Emily, in an attempt to get to know her husband postmortem, uses her newfound independence in London to study it. In the process, she forms a friendship with Cecile du Lac, a Parisian of a certain age, and realizes that there was more to Philip than she realized-including his genuine passion and love for her. The charming Colin Hargreaves may have been involved with Philip in art forgeries, and Andrew Palmer proposes to Emily and then offers evidence that Philip is still alive. By this time, Emily and Cecile are a well-practiced team of amateur sleuths: Phillip's secrets begin to emerge, and travel to Greece provides the possibilities of a new life. Alexander makes Emily light but sympathetic, and conveys period flavor without being ponderous. Her knowledge of the ethical dilemmas posed by Victorian etiquette is considerable; sexual chemistry in particular is handled with exquisite delicacy. The archeological background will lure readers who like to dig for their clues. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A young widow immerses herself in antiquity and uncovers a scandal in Alexander's Victorian-era suspense debut. Emily married Philip, a wealthy viscount, mainly to escape her overbearing mother's constant hectoring. Her new husband has two passions: acquiring ancient Greek vases and statuary, and big-game hunting. Shortly after their marriage, Philip leaves Emily in their London townhouse and embarks on an extended African safari. His fellow hunters, impoverished aristocrats Andrew and Arthur Palmer and best friend Colin Hargreaves, report that he died of a mysterious fever at camp. Widowed after only six months of marriage to a man she hardly knew, Emily is relieved and secretly exhilarated by her inherited fortune and the independence it offers. But she soon sees signs that Philip had had things to hide. A man with a scarred face stalks her while she is inspecting the antiquities her husband donated to the British Museum. Philip's desk and her Paris hotel room are ransacked. Colin, to whom she is attracted, is frustratingly unforthcoming about Philip's business dealings-and his own. Andrew, who at first charms Emily with his debonair cynicism about society, and his acceptance of her rebellions (drinking port instead of sherry, studying ancient Greek), turns hostile when she rejects his proposal. At the Louvre, she befriends Attewater, an expert forger who specializes in copying classical artifacts on commission. However, he will not identify his well-heeled patrons. Emily learns from this unsavory acquaintance that Philip's British Museum gifts are actually copies and the originals are stockpiled at his country estate. Then word comes through that Philip may actually be alive. Emily,who has fallen in love with her husband after reading his journal (sections of it introduce each chapter), prepares to go on safari to search for him. Following a long buildup, the payoff is rather too predictable, and the opulence insulating Emily insures that she's never truly in jeopardy. Pleasantly soporific.
“Had Jane Austen written The Da Vinci Code, she may well have come up with this elegant novel.”
From the Publisher
"This engaging, witty mix of Victorian cozy and suspense thriller draws its dramatic spark from the endearingly headstrong heroine's growth in life and love. A memorable debut." Booklist
“Engagingly suspenseful and rich with period detail.”
“Fans of Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters will welcome this debut novel.”
“An admirable and literate debut novel.”
South Bend Tribune
“The story spans genres, appealing to lovers of suspense, history and romance...historically correct and beautifully done.”
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“The who-done-it is well designed and fun to follow. Tasha Alexander’s historical mystery is terrific.”
“An entertaining debut.”
I Love A Mystery newsletter
"The who-done-it is well designed and fun to follow. Tasha Alexander’s historical mystery is terrific."
Read an Excerpt
And Only to Deceive A Novel of Suspense
By Tasha Alexander
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2005 Tasha Alexander
All right reserved.
Few people would look kindly on my reasons for marrying Philip; neither love nor money nor his title induced me to accept his proposal. Yet, as I look across the spans of Aegean Sea filling the view from my villas balcony, I cannot doubt that it was a surprisingly good decision.
The Viscount Ashton seemed an unlikely candidate to bring anyone much happiness, at least according to my standards. His fortune, moderate good looks, and impeccable manners guaranteed that hapless females would constantly fling themselves at him in the hope of winning his affection. They missed his defining characteristic, ensuring that he would never pay them more than the slightest polite attention: Philip was a hunter.
I mean this, of course, literally. Hunting possessed him. He spent as much time as his fortune would permit pursuing wild beasts. The dignified (although I would not choose to describe it as so) English hunt amused him, but he preferred big game and passed much of his time stalking his quarry on the plains of Africa. He could be found in London only briefly, at the height of the Season, when he limited his prey to potential brides. The image he presented could be described as striking, I suppose. He played the part of daring adventurer well.
My encounter with the dashing viscount began as such things typically do, at a soiree. I found the conversation lacking and longed to return home to the novel that had engrossed me all morning. Philip differed little from other men I met, and I had no interest in continuing the acquaintance. No interest, that is, until I decided to accept the inevitable and agree to marry.
My mother and I do not particularly enjoy each others company. From the day the queen kissed me during my presentation at court in Buckingham Palace, I heard from Mother constant reminders that my looks would soon fade, and she admonished me to do my best to catch a husband immediately. That I had refused several good offers continued to vex her, and I will not bore the reader with the details of these trivial events. Suffice it to say that I had little interest in marriage. I cannot claim that this was due to lofty ideals of love or outrage at the submission demanded by many husbands of their wives. Frankly, I considered the proposition of matrimony immensely boring. Married women I knew did scarcely more than bear children and order around their servants. Their time consumed by mundane details, the most excitement for which they could hope was some social event at which they could meet one another and complain about said children and servants. I preferred my life at home. At least as a single woman, I had time to pursue my own interests, read voraciously, and travel when opportunity presented.
Did I marry Philip, then, because of his keen sense of adventure? Did I long to travel to darkest Africa with him? Hardly. I married him because he happened to propose at a moment when accepting him seemed a simple way out of an increasingly unbearable situation.
As the months following my debut progressed, my mother became more and more desperate, her dearest wish having always been to see me make a brilliant match before the end of my first Season. She lamented continually; it was nearly impossible to converse with her on any other topic. Any topic, that is, other than the proposals being accepted by the daughters of her friends. She began to point out the slightest wrinkles and imperfections on my face, bemoaning what she considered to be the beginning of the end of my wasted beauty. She cut my allowance, telling me I must learn to live on a pittance if I were determined to be a spinster. The final affront came one morning when she entered my room with a dressmakers tape. She wanted to measure my waist to see how quickly I was becoming old and fat. I could bear it no longer.
That same afternoon Philip called and asked me to do him the honor of becoming his wife. This came as a complete surprise; I had rarely conversed with him, though we saw each other frequently at social gatherings. Having no interest in hunting or in his superficial charm, I tended to avoid him. I did not realize that the hunter always prefers the quarry that is difficult to catch. He claimed to love me endlessly and said all the pretty words we expect to hear on such an occasion. They meant nothing to me. Living with him could not be worse than continued subjection to my mothers ranting. I accepted his proposal immediately.
The wedding took place as soon as my trousseau could be assembled. Six months later I found myself a widow. I had known my husband barely long enough for his name to stop sounding foreign on my lips. When I read the telegram, a feeling of relief and freedom swept through my body, causing me to tremble. The butler reached toward me, assuming I would faint. I never faint. Fainting is a result of affectation or too-tight stays; I will succumb to neither.
I felt no grief for the loss of Philip. I hardly knew him. As the astute reader will already have guessed, the hunter rarely has much interest in his quarry once it is caught, except as a trophy. After a brief wedding trip, my new husband returned to Africa, where he spent the months prior to his death hunting with his friends. We exchanged civil, impersonal letters. Then the prescribed period of mourning began. For twelve months I would have to wear nothing but black crepe and avoid nearly all social events. After that I would be allowed silk, but in dull grays and black stripes. Not until two years had passed would I be able to return to an ordinary existence.
Excerpted from And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander Copyright © 2005 by Tasha Alexander.
Excerpted by permission.
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“Had Jane Austen written The Da Vinci Code, she may well have come up with this elegant novel.”