In Alexander's charming third novel of romantic suspense set in late Victorian England (after The Poisoned Season), Lady Emily Ashton is at a country house party when someone shoots her noxious host, Lord Basil Fortescue, with a dueling pistol. After the husband of a good friend is accused of the murder, Emily determines to find the real killer. The only clue, a threatening letter promising a political assassination, drives Emily to Vienna, where she meets the painter Gustav Klimt and shares stolen moments with her fiancé, diplomat Colin Hargreaves. But Emily never forgets her urgent mission-in the service of which she must match wits with double agents and anarchists as well as ally herself temporarily with Colin's former lover, the sexually sophisticated Kristiana von Lange. The appealing Emily at times comes across as too modern for even the most unconventional Victorian character, and the plot sags in mid-story despite several clever subplots. Still, the book's entertaining voice and accurate period detail will seduce most readers. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Set in late 19th-century England, Alexander's third historical (after And Only To Deceiveand A Poisoned Season) to feature Lady Emily Ashton begins at a country-house party at which political powerhouse Lord Basil Fortescue is shot and Robert Brandon, his protégé, stands accused of the murder. Emily attends the party with her fiancé, agent of the Crown Colin Hargreaves. While Colin is engaged in uncovering a plot against England, Emily, a close friend of Robert's wife, doesn't hesitate to look for the real killer. When Emily and Colin both wind up in Vienna mingling with anarchists and artists alike, the two are surprised to find how well they work together. Alexander cleverly incorporates historical figures and events into a fictional story of European political intrigue, English society, Viennese culture, and plenty of genteel romantic chemistry. A wonderful choice for readers looking for a pleasant diversion from everyday troubles; recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ2/1/08.]
Port-swilling sleuth Lady Emily Ashton embroils herself in an international intrigue that might just start World War I two decades early. In the third of Alexander's series (A Poisoned Season, 2007, etc.), Lord Fortescue, a powerful advisor to Queen Victoria, invites Emily and friends to a hunting party at his country house, apparently for the sole purpose of insulting them all weekend. Too soon, a major source of suspense-wondering when Fortescue's guests will storm out en masse-is dispelled by someone putting a bullet through the host's head. Although Fortescue had dirt on nearly everyone in England, the most immediate suspect is his former political protege, Robert Brandon, husband of Emily's dear friend Ivy. Clapped in Newgate prison, Robert begs Emily to find the real killer. Fortescue had received death threats from Vienna, he reveals. Fortunately for Emily's vast wardrobe, the Waltz season is in full lilt there, so it's all aboard the Orient Express. Accompanying our redoubtable amateur detective are her childhood friend and would-be lover Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and her French copine Cecile, herself a pal of Austria's bereaved empress Sissi, who's mourning her son's death in a supposed suicide pact. Once in snowy Vienna, Emily befriends a struggling artist who leads her to Gustav Schroder, an anarchist who knows of Fortescue's nefarious plot to lead England into war with Germany by fomenting a bombing during the Kaiser's visit to Vienna. Emily's betrothed Colin, often absent on clandestine spying missions, stops by occasionally to kiss her soulfully and commiserate about their delayed nuptials, postponed by Emily's mother until Queen Victoria can fit them into her socialcalendar. Emily dodges Harrison, a sinister cohort of Fortescue's who leaves bullets in her hotel room, purse, favorite cafe, etc., just to show he can. The convoluted plot verges on impenetrable, and rich, cosseted Emily remains a heroine whose mettle is in serious need of testing. Tantalizing but ultimately tepid. Agent: Anne Hawkins/John Hawkins & Associates
From the Publisher
"A wonderful choice for readers looking for a pleasant diversion from everyday troubles." Library Journal
Read an Excerpt A Fatal Waltz A Novel of Suspense
By Tasha Alexander
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Tasha Alexander
All right reserved.
I had not noticed it when she first arrived: the way she leaned too far towards him as he kissed her hand, the hint of surprised recognition in his eyes. But having spent an afternoon in the same room as them, watching the effortless manner in which they fell into familiar conversation—two striking individuals against an equally spectacular backdrop—I could not deny that they were more than casual acquaintances. Never had I suspected my fiancé was so close to another woman.
I was accustomed to, and often amused by, the parade of young ladies who flirted with Colin Hargreaves at every opportunity. The fact that he looked something like a Greek statue of ideal man—by Praxiteles, of course—made him irresistible to debutantes. His enormous fortune, family lineage that could be traced to the time of William the Conqueror, and well-tended estate ensured that he was equally attractive to their parents. But until today, I'd never seen him react to a woman the way he did to the Countess von Lange.
"And you know, Schatz, the Baroness Meinz thought that Tintoretto had done the doors of the Duomo in Florence. Can you imagine?" she asked. Schatz? I was shocked to hear her use a term of endearment in such an intimate tone of voice.
"Well, perhaps she's no scholar of art, but—," Colin began.
"Scholar?Darling, she's absolutely hopeless. Why, even you know who Tintoretto is, don't you, Lady Ashton?"
"Of course," I said, my lack of knowledge of Renaissance art making it impossible for me to add anything more.
"You understand, I hope, why Tintoretto couldn't have done the doors?" she asked, her green eyes dancing as she looked at me.
"My expertise is in classical art, countess," I said. "I'm afraid I'm unable to discuss the nuances of the Italian Renaissance."
"Nuance has nothing to do with it. Tintoretto was a painter. Ghiberti was a sculptor. He did the doors—Michelangelo called them 'gates of paradise.'" She pushed against Colin's arm playfully. "You are going to have to educate her. I can't have you married to someone who's as foolish as the baroness. It would be unconscionable."
"You've nothing to fear on that count," he said. "Emily's brilliant."
"Spoken like a man in love." She had turned so that her back was almost to me, cutting me out of the conversation.
"Will you excuse me?" I asked. There are moments when one is overwhelmed with a feeling of awkwardness, when grace and sophistication and even coherence are goals more remote than that of a woman in evening dress climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or of my mother convincing me to adopt her definition of a successful life. This was one of those moments, and I had no desire to prolong it. As I stood up, my heel caught the silk hem of my gown, and I tripped. Not daring to look at the countess, I mustered as much dignity as possible following what was a decidedly inelegant recovery and headed for the tea table.
Every inch of the mahogany surface was covered by dainty china platters heaped with sandwiches, biscuits, and cakes. Although I did not doubt for an instant that it was all delectable, none of it appealed to a stomach seared by embarrassment. I poured myself a cup of tea, my unsteady hands sloshing the golden liquid onto the saucer, and took a seat on the other side of the parlor.
"Stunning woman, the countess, wouldn't you say, Lady Ashton?" Lord Fortescue dropped onto the chair across from me, its delicate frame bowing under his weight. "Great friend of Hargreaves's. They've known each other for years. Inseparable when he's on the Continent."
I'd had the misfortune in the past year of drawing the attention and ire of Lord Fortescue, confidant of Queen Victoria and broadly considered to be the most powerful man in the empire. I despised him as much as he despised me, and wondered how I would survive for days on end trapped at Beaumont Towers, his extravagant estate in Yorkshire. Ignoring his question, I looked across the drawing room at a gentleman sprawled on a moss green velvet settee. "Is Sir Thomas asleep? That can't bode well for this party."
"So unfortunate that you had to postpone your wedding," Fortescue drawled. "But we needed Hargreaves in Russia. Couldn't be avoided." Colin and I had planned to be married as soon as possible after I'd accepted his proposal, but he was called away just two days before the wedding—no doubt by Lord Fortescue—to assist with a delicate situation in St. Petersburg. This had caused a considerable amount of gossip, as we'd bowed to family pressure to invite several hundred guests.
"Mrs. Brandon tells me that Sir Thomas has a terrible habit of dozing in Parliament. I marvel that his constituents continue to reelect him." I turned my head to stare out the window across the moors.
"I wouldn't expect Hargreaves to be in a hurry to marry you now that he's renewing his acquaintance with the countess." He tapped on the side of his empty glass, which a footman immediately refilled with scotch. As soon as the servant had stepped away, my adversary resumed his offensive. "I've no interest in protecting your feelings, Lady Ashton. You will never make an appropriate wife for him, and I shall do everything in my power to make sure that he never marries you."
"I wonder if I could fall asleep in Parliament," I said, refusing to engage him. "I shouldn't think the benches are that comfortable, though it's not difficult to believe many of the speeches are tedious enough to induce even the most hearty soul to slumber. But I'd wager the House of Commons is more lively than the House of Lords." Across the room, the countess had pulled her chair closer to Colin's, her hand draped elegantly over his armrest.
"You will not avoid conversation on this topic," Lord Fortescue said, his voice sharp, his already ruddy complexion taking on an even brighter hue.
Excerpted from A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander Copyright © 2008 by Tasha Alexander. Excerpted by permission.
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