I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It was certainly an enjoyable enough read but looking at Amazon the books in this series are getting 4 and 5 stars – I mean REALLY? Did I think this book was above the ordinary historical mystery?
It is a historical mystery set in Victorian England with a young widow, Emily Ashton at its core. As we learn, Emily just wants to be left to her own devices. She wants to do what she wants to do and has very little interest in marriage and a great weariness with Victorian cultural expectations. But as a well to do young woman in Victorian England this is impossible, particularly when one has Emily’s Mama from hell. So after a particularly nasty nagging attack by her mother, the obliging Viscount Philip Ashton shows up and proposes marriage to which Emily agrees in order to get away from her mother. Emily doesn’t care a fig for Philip and is rather relieved when 6 months after they are married he dies on a safari in Africa. This is where we find Emily, a rather happy wealthy widow, with more freedom than an unmarried single girl and whose only complaints are the boredom of 2 years of required mourning and having to pretend that she knew and cared for Philip better than she did.
A twist comes when she learns that her husband had been very interested in greek antiquities and mythology and she decides to relieve her boredom by learning a little bit about this herself. She becomes very interested and this leads to reading Philip's journal where she finds much to her shock that Philip was not only a really kick-ass guy but that he loved her quite passionately. She heartbreakingly proceeds to fall in love with her dead husband. But she also discovers a conspiracy of antiquities fraud, which her husband may have been involved in. She sets out to find the truth of the matter and hence the mystery. During all of this she is helped/hindered/courted by two of Philip’s eligible friends, Colin Hargreaves and Andrew Palmer and she befriends an avant garde middle age french woman Cecile du Lac who helps with her inquiries.
All in all a pretty interesting plot – I liked the parts concerning ancient Greece and the idea of Philip and Emily’s relationship was interesting and provided a clever way of revealing the real problems, particularly for women, in Victorian culture where strong emotion was rather taboo and not encouraged. However much of the book felt heavy-handed to me with the strictures of Victorian culture everywhere apparent. Emily really does undergo a transformation in the book from a rather silly, thoughtless girl who just wants to rebel to a woman who knows she has no idea what she wants and craves the freedom to find out. But even with this she didn’t feel entirely real to me - there wasn’t enough depth. And the other characters in the book don't escape the one-dimensional plane.
Overall it was good read and I will seek out the next books in the series but I did not find it to be exceptional.