The Berkeley Square Affair by Teresa Grant is the sixth Regency-era mystery with Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, this time in pursuit of a lost Shakespeare manuscript and facing the darkest secrets of their pasts (available March 25, 2014).
Some mysteries rely on murder or puzzles or a ticking clock for their suspense. The Berkeley Square Affair is a mystery of manners and hidden family secrets.
Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch are a pair of former spies from the Napoleonic wars. The couple has settled down to domestic bliss (at least on the surface) with their two children in Regency London. Inevitably, they’re drawn into a mystery surrounding a lost Shakespeare revision of Hamlet. But Hamlet quickly takes a back seat to ferreting out a generation’s worth of secrets that include murder, infidelity and treason.
And yet, the secret I was most interested in and the one that kept me reading at the edge of my seat was the very personal secret that Suzanne is hiding from Malcolm.
For her husband, the man she had married out of necessity and come to love so much it frightened her, didn’t know she had been a Bonapartist agent when they met. That she had married him to spy for the French. That she had gone on doing so for the first three years of their marriage. That even now, more than two years after she had made the choice to leave off spying, she felt the tug of divided loyalties. That she lived with the constant fear of discovery, like the nagging pain of a headache that never went away or the gnawing ache of a half-healed wound.
That the couple has two children only adds to her fears. When Malcolm discovers the Shakespeare manuscript contains a code that points to a ring of French spies, Suzanne realizes it’s only a matter of time before Malcolm realizes the truth.
It’s a convincing portrait of a couple deeply in love but also deeply foreign to each other. And that theme of not-knowing those closest to you carries throughout the book as it seems every single character has their secrets: secrets about affairs, and parentage, and secrets about feelings that kept hidden in very polite, cultured, British ways. Everyone treads carefully, especially Malcolm, who values logic over emotion, as can be seen in his thoughts about Lord Carfax, his spymaster and mentor.
Carfax’s steady gaze and the blessed non-intrusive calm of his voice that day he offered Malcolm his diplomatic and intelligence position echoed in Malcolm’s mind. Without the man before him, he would never have met Suzanne. He wouldn’t have Colin and Jessica. He might well be dead one way or another. But he knew full well how Carfax turned personal information to his own ends. It was one thing to share Alistair’s secrets. Malcolm owned his putative father no allegiance. But now it was a question of his mother’s secrets. And O’Roarke’s.
While I was absorbed in the personal, I did want for more investigating of the mystery and more focus on Shakespeare scholarship. The atmosphere of this tale puts the reader right in Regency London and among a ton of interesting people, including a theater company, but it does veer away from the main mystery focus more than some mystery readers will like, with the various subplots threatening to overwhelm the main plot.
For those who’ve been reading the series, this is a must-buy for the developments between Malcolm and Suzanne.
However, there will be drawbacks for new readers. The huge cast is difficult to track, especially since characters are referred by not only their last names but also their first names and titles. I’d have been lost without the character list in the front.
And all those characters come with backstories that I had to juggle as well. There seem to be two former French spies hiding among the theater company, each with children and a noble patron, two gay couples with a disapproving noble father, and a host of children whose names all blended together for me.
While this was frustrating at times, it also tempted me to pick up all five previous stories because it sounds like I’ve missed some great historical mysteries set in Regency-era Europe. I’m going to have to correct that mistake.
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Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.