After a slow start, all the narrative strands, among them the voice of Queen Victoria, begin to work together in this engaging historical from Barron (Jane and the Stillroom Maidand eight other Jane Austen mysteries). Against a backdrop of national mourning for Prince Albert in 1861, an evil (complete with eye patch) German count, Wolfgang von Stühlen, tracks Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald, who 20 years earlier defended a would-be assassin of the queen, and Fitzgerald's beautiful ward, Georgiana "Georgie" Armistead, who, unusually for a woman of the period, is trained as a doctor. Georgie's specialized medical knowledge comes into play as the late prince consort's concerns and his widow's fears drive the fleeing pair to France, to visit Victoria's youngest son, the sickly Prince Leopold, and on to Bavaria, the original home of the interrelated family of Victoria and Albert. (An opening genealogical chart shows that the queen and her consort were cousins.) The history of the royal line is diverting, and the royal gossip is even more so. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A Flaw in the Bloodby Stephanie Barron
Windsor Castle, 1861. For the second time in over twenty years, Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald has been summoned by
The acclaimed author of the bestselling Jane Austen mysteries brings rich historical immediacy to an enthralling new suspense novel centered around Queen Victoria’s troubled court…and a secret so dangerous, it could topple thrones.
Windsor Castle, 1861. For the second time in over twenty years, Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald has been summoned by the Queen. The first time, he’d been a zealous young legal clerk, investigating what appeared to be a murderous conspiracy against her. Now he is a distinguished gentleman at the top of his profession. And the Queen is a woman in the grip of fear. For on this chilly night, her beloved husband, Prince Albert, lies dying.
With her future clouded by grief, Fitzgerald can’t help but notice the Queen is curiously preoccupied with the past. Yet why, and how he can help, is unclear. His bewilderment deepens when the royal coach is violently overturned, nearly killing him and his brilliant young ward, Dr. Georgiana Armistead, niece of the late Dr. Snow, a famed physician who’d attended none other than Her Majesty.
Fitzgerald is sure of one thing: the Queen’s carriage was not attacked at random—it was a carefully chosen target. But was it because he rode in it? Fitzgerald won’t risk dying in order to find out. He’ll leave London and take Georgiana with him—if they can get out alive. For soon the pair find themselves hunted. Little do they know they each carry within their past hidden clues to a devastating royal secret…one they must untangle if they are to survive.
From the streets of London to the lush hills of Cannes, from the slums of St. Giles to the gilded halls of Windsor Castle, A Flaw in the Blood delivers a fascinating tale of pursuit, and the artful blend of period detail and electrifying intrigue that only the remarkable Stephanie Barron can devise.
From the Hardcover edition.
In her first stand-alone penned under the Barron name, the author of the acclaimed Jane Austen mystery series (she also writes as Francine Matthews) delivers a remarkable gem of historical suspense based on her careful research of 19th-century British royalty. This rich thriller revolves around the recent death of Prince Albert, the beloved husband and consort of Queen Victoria, an event that raises many questions about the behavior of her courtiers and other royal family members. On the night the prince lies dying, Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald, who had helped investigate an attempted assassination of the queen 20 years earlier, is again summoned by Victoria, but the royal carriage conveying him and his assistant, Dr. Georgiana Armistead, to Windsor Castle is attacked. In an effort to protect Georgiana, also niece of the queen's personal physician, and to discover who tried to kill them, Fitzgerald leaves with Georgiana for France to visit Prince Leopold, Victoria's youngest and quite sickly son. Yet even there the couple find themselves pursued. Through Barron's careful, accurate period details, readers get a true sense of what it was like to live in Victorian England. Strongly recommended for historical mystery or suspense fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ11/1/07.]
“An enquiry into the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Consort…. Intertwined with information about medical malpractive 150 years ago and royal genealogy.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[A] beautifully written novel, filled with twists and turns…. You’ll smell the scented chambers at Windsor and the filth in the hovel, along with the Victorian hypocrisy. And you will be so caught up in the characters that you'll wish Barron would turn Georgie and Patrick into a series, just as she did with Jane Austen.”—Denver Post
“A suspenseful tale that fits with several little known facts about the Victorian monarchy…. . Barron skillfully paces the book to keep the reader's interest heightened.”—Boulder Daily Camera
“A thrilling chase through Europe with plenty of action and…. The stunning conclusion will leave you wondering about the course of British history.”—Rocky Mountain News
“With all the earmarks of a gothic romance—guilty secrets, hopes dashed, revenge plotted, this fast-paced mystery is a winner for fans of Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney, as well as the more contemporary Carlos Ruiz Zafón.” —Booklist
“Engaging…The history of the royal line is diverting, and the royal gossip is even more so.” —Publishers Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
14 December, 1861
The carriage made little sound as it rolled beneath the iron portcullis of Windsor; the harness and wheels were wrapped in flannel, the paving stones three inches deep in sawdust. But its arrival fell upon the place like an armed attack, shaking the ostlers out of their torpor. They sprang to the horses’ heads before the equipage had even pulled to a halt, as though Patrick Fitzgerald brought tidings of war.
Fitzgerald made no move to step down into the sawdust. His hands were thrust in his coat pockets for warmth, his eyes fixed on the flaming torches and silent men beyond the carriage window. Once before, he had been to the great stone pile west of London—summoned, as tonight, by the woman who ruled there. But he was thinking less of the Queen now than of the man who lay in her private apartments, shuddering with fever.
“Let me come with you.” Georgiana’s gloved hand—that supple hand, so deft with the knife blade—reached for him. “I want to come with you.”
Darkness filled the carriage. Only the gleam of her eyes suggested a presence; she had drawn the hood of her cloak close about her face, like a thief.
“It may have nothing to do with you, Georgiana. You cannot always presume—”
“And what if I have something to do with it?” she interrupted. “With him?”
But she’d turned her head away, her profile outlined against the squabs. She was biting down hard on her anger, as though it were a haft of iron between her teeth.
“And she’d never let you near him,” he attempted. “You must know that.”
“Then she’s a fool!”
The coachman stumbled as he jumped from the box; the noise reverberated against the chilled stone like a gunshot, and the ostlers stared in outrage. Silence in the Old Quadrangle, in respect of the dying. Fitzgerald caught the coachman’s indrawn hiss of breath, ripe with fear, as he pulled open the door.
“Wait,” he told Georgiana. “I shan’t be long.”
She didn’t attempt to argue. She would be freezing soon, he thought, despite her layers of petticoats. But Georgie would never ask for a hot brick, a brazier of coals. Her pride would kill her one day.
A footman led him into Windsor by the lower entrance, and there, too, the stone floor was blanketed with sawdust. The castle was known for its menacing silence—the vast, carpeted halls absorbed every footfall, and its people trafficked in whispers. Fitzgerald neither spoke nor offered his hand to the man who awaited him—William Jenner, court physician and eminent man of science.
“You took your time,” the doctor snapped.
Fitzgerald handed his gloves and hat to the footman before replying. “I was in Dublin but two days since.”
“And you stink to high heaven of strong spirits.”
“Would you have had me miss my dinner, then? I only received your summons at five o’clock.”
“It is nearly ten! As I say—you took your time.” Jenner’s eyes were small and close-set, his jowls turned down in perpetual disappointment. He surveyed the Irishman’s careless dress, his unkempt hair, with disfavour. “It may be that she will not receive you, now.”
“I didn’t ask for the audience.” Fitzgerald shrugged indifferently. “Is it so necessary?”
“I would not thwart her smallest wish at such an hour! I fear too much for her reason.”
“And your patient? How is he?”
Jenner had made his reputation, years ago, by distinguishing typhoid fever from its close relative, typhus. The physician was the acknowledged expert in the thing that was now killing Prince Albert.
“The Prince will rally,” Jenner said.
From the vehemence of the doctor’s words, Fitzgerald concluded that there was no hope.
He followed Jenner up a broad staircase. Through shadowy passages and paneled doors. The final hallway was remarkable for its dimness; oil lamps burned low. A pair of footmen stood immobile by one chamber. He was led beyond, to the Red Room.
“Wait,” Jenner ordered, and stalked away.
To sit would be forbidden. Indeed, it was a testament to the chaos of this night that Fitzgerald was left alone at all, in such a place—that he should have the freedom of Windsor—and for a wild instant he was tempted to fly back into the passage, to trust in the footmen’s trained invisibility, to roam at will over the seat of British power and take from it such tokens as he chose. But Patrick Fitzgerald was not quite the savage young man he’d been on his first visit more than twenty years ago. He was six-and-forty years now and had earned a dubious reputation at the Bar. His views were Liberal and his opinions on the Irish Question—the eternal Irish Question—sometimes surfaced in the London papers. For an instant, Georgie’s eyes rose before his mind and he wished with all his heart and soul that he was still raw, still young, still braced with hope. Then the rustle of silk proclaimed her coming.
“Your Majesty.” He went down on one knee.
She had taken up a position behind the sopha. The plump white hands grasped the wooden frame; had her grip been less fierce, the fingers might have trembled. She was a short woman of forty-two, with sagging cheeks and a mass of dark hair dragging at her temples; but once she had been a dab of a girl—a joyous girl, tricked out in silver net and flashing diamonds, her hand coquettish on her husband’s arm as he led her into the opera. A bruising rider on her gallops through the park—a passionate performer on the pianoforte. The unkind and malicious said she ate like a glutton. That she was given to odd fits of temper and caprice, like her mad old grandfather. They said a woman was too weak to rule. Fitzgerald knew better. Weakness had never been Victoria’s failing.
“I am here at your command.” He chose his words carefully. “Pray inform me how I may serve Your Majesty.”
With a gesture, she bade him rise. “You know of our great trouble? Of the Prince’s . . . illness?”
“You have my deepest sympathy.”
A blank expression of terror in her blue eyes; contempt as she looked at him. “We do not want your sympathy, Mr. Fitzgerald! Our doctors assure us there is every cause for hope.”
“There must be, while Prince Albert breathes.”
Her gaze slid away from his face. “He will not fight it as he ought. He has no tenacity for life. If it were I—”
“Your Majesty should have rallied days since.”
Perhaps she had been speaking only to herself. She flashed a look of pure hatred in his direction, as though he had overstepped some boundary.
“Good God, that we should waste our precious moments in this! Mr. Fitzgerald, some two decades ago you inserted yourself in our affairs, on the occasion of an attempt on our life in Green Park. You undertook, during the summer of 1840, to insinuate yourself among those who were not our friends—to purchase scurrilous information—in short, to besmirch the reputation of the Royal Family—with a view to vindicating the wretched creature who would have murdered his Queen.”
She had torn him to shreds in just this way, all those years ago. Then he was an ill-dressed solicitor’s clerk, cap crushed in his hands and heart pounding in his chest. And the dupe, Oxford, had waited to be hanged in Newgate Gaol.
“I was a servant of justice, Your Majesty!”
“You were an uncouth lackey of the Irish rabble,” she retorted. “And your late success has not improved you one whit. I know what you are, Patrick Fitzgerald. I know that you have chosen to insert yourself again in my affairs—that you will not rest until you have toppled this monarchy!”
Angry heat mounted in his cheeks. “That is a lie! Yes—though the Queen herself says it!”
“I would not spare a blackguard such as you one second of notice,” she continued, “were it not for the Angelic Being who lies wasting in the next room! Were it not for the ravings he has uttered—”
She broke off. She closed her eyes, swaying slightly.
“Ravings,” Fitzgerald repeated. “The Prince has . . . wandered, in his fever?”
“Oh, God,” she murmured brokenly. “My reason—my reason . . . Do you care nothing that I shall go mad?”
She sank heavily against the back of the sopha, her nails raking the silk.
“Majesty . . .” He crossed toward her, afraid she would collapse at his feet—but one upraised arm checked his steps.
“Do not even think of touching me.” She said it venomously. “Get Jenner. He will tell you what to do.”
She pulled herself upright. Drew a shuddering breath. And, without glancing again in his direction, left him.
“What is it?” Georgie asked the moment he slid into the forward seat of the coach and the muffled wheels began to turn. “What did she want? What did she ask of you?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Tell me! I’ve waited nearly an hour—” Georgie bit her lip. “Please, Patrick.”
“I was ordered to sign a bit of paper,” he answered. “Affirming that every fact I discovered, every witness I deposed, every rumour I substantiated in the summer of 1840, was nothing more than a fabrication of my own treacherous Irish mind. And that, having repented of my calumnies, I hereby swear to lead a better life in allegiance to my Crown, so help me God—”
“No!” Georgie gasped. “But that is . . . that is wicked! You did not sign it?”
“I threw it on the fire, lass.”
“Why does it matter? Why should she care about that old business? With the Prince so ill?”
“Lord alone knows. Poor thing was half out of her mind, I think.” He glanced at Georgiana—her luminous skin, her eyes filled with intelligence and fatal truth. “She talked of conspiracy. Accused me of trying again to topple the monarchy. As though I ever have!”
“There must be some mistake. A misapprehension—”
“The Prince is raving, seemingly. In his fever.”
“And when you refused to recant?”
“Jenner threatened me. Informed me my life has no more purchase than a sparrow’s.” Fitzgerald smiled faintly. “If I’d signed, of course, he’d have made me an honourary Englishman.”
Humour for Georgie’s sake, but she knew Jenner, and she seized on his significance at once.
“He was there—attending to the Prince? Then it is typhoid.” She reached impulsively for the carriage door. “We must go back, Patrick. You know I could prevent the spread of contagion—”
Fitzgerald’s heart twisted. All her passion in her beautiful eyes.
“Georgie love,” he said gently as the bells of Windsor began to toll, “the Prince is dead.”
Meet the Author
Stephanie Barron is the author of eight previous Jane Austen mysteries. She lives in Colorado, where she is at work on the next Jane Austen mystery.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Very difficult to get into and confusing to read.
I thought this book had all the ingredients for a great mystery: suspense, history, believable and interesting characters, and a plot that tantalizes you to think about it even after you have finished the book! I have enjoyed her Austen books because I like Jane Austen, but I thought this was the best of all her books. One did really feel as if you were reading Queen Victoria's diary-------it seemed very real, even true! And the ending really did surprise me, which doesn't always happen. I hope she writes more books like this one.
Stephanie Barron makes a departure from her Jane Austen series to create this tale of the tense weeks following the death of Queen Victoria's beloved consort, Prince Albert. We see a dark side of the queen as she uses any means to keep a family secret which could topple her from the throne if revealed. Desperately she (and a team of thugs) attempt to stop the investigations into her family history by Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald and his beautiful ward, Dr. Georgiana Armistead. The action moves along at a breathtaking pace, and Fitzgerald, moving through a society in which the Irish were distrusted and downright despised, is a particularly sympathetic character. Lots of atmosphere and a fine sense of the era add to the novel.
Sometimes, too much information (names & references to royals)... Sometimes, not enough (when switching between several narrators, no names for paragraphs)... This book was hard to read and not even worth the effort. After reading great historical mysteries by Will Thomas, Deanna Raybourn, and Tasha Alexander, this was just plain dissapointing.
A Flaw in the Blood Stephanie Barron Bantam, Mar 2008, $24.00 ISBN: 9780553805246 In 1861 Windsor Castle, the Prince Consort Albert is dying from typhoid, a disease he has battled with for several months. His wife Queen Victoria of England is beside herself with grief as she wonders how she will survive and continue to rule her empire without him at her side he has always been there for her and their children since they married two decades ago. Victoria sends her royal coach for Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald to see her as she has need of his service. Twenty years ago when she was a shaky ruler of just a few years, he, as a legal clerk, exposed a murderous conspiracy intended to dethrone her. Fitzgerald accompanied by his ward Dr. Georgiana Armistead has no idea what her Highness wants of him, but when the coach containing them is attacked, he fears for their lives as he knows the assault was precisely planned by a royal insider. He refuses to risk their lives so he plans to hide the niece of the late Dr. Snow, physician to the Queen. However they are the prey of predators seeking a secret that goes back to his first royal encounter although he remains ignorant of that truth if revealed those who want the queen deposed will have a perfect rationale at a time the grief stricken Victoria is too weak to fight back. --- In many ways this exhilarating thriller is more a historical novel than a mystery. The audience obtains a taste of greater London at a critical time in the reign of Queen Victoria when the monarch is vulnerable. Fitzgerald keeps the tale focused with his realistic attempts to hide rather than die facing his unknown adversaries. Readers will appreciate Stephanie Barron¿s fine mid nineteenth century Victorian suspense saga with nary an Austen or any Jane in sight. --- Harriet Klausner
Good story, believable but slow
Very compelling. I thought going from one character's view point to another helped develop the story. Historical facts mixed in a classic who done it makes for an interesting read. Its worth the price and your time
Very tedious....going back and forth between too many characters. Its a bashing of queen Victoria as a sex craved crazy woman... It is an exercise in multi tasking of the mind.. too distracting to follow and gave me a headache... Ms. Barron has done better and this one is not worth reading.... lindalou