Thu
Nov 9 2017 2:30pm

Review: City of Lies by Victoria Thompson

City of Lies by Victoria Thompson—author of the beloved Gaslight Mysteriesis the first in an exciting new series featuring Elizabeth Miles, a woman on the run during WWI and the women's suffrage movement.

Victoria Thompson’s first entry into the Counterfeit Lady novels brings us back to WWI and uses the women's suffrage movement as a backdrop for her fiery heroine to get tangled up in. Elizabeth Miles is a liar, a thief, and a grifter—it’s not an honest job, but it’s one she excels at. I’ve always loved a good story about thieves, and Elizabeth is an engaging character. The story opens as she and her brother Jake run a stock-market con on the unpleasant Mr. Thornton. Things are moving along well enough—until Thornton realizes something is amiss.

On a run for her life—her brother assumed dead—Elizabeth finds herself on Pennsylvania Avenue on a very special day. The suffragists are demonstrating, and the police are just looking for an excuse to arrest them. Elizabeth, desperate to escape Thornton, uses that to her advantage.

I admit, as we go along with Elizabeth’s arrest and sentencing, I was excited. I knew the players here. Lucy Burns and Alice Paul have a short presence on the page, but one I’m familiar with. Reading City of Lies, I was reminded of the first time I ever saw Iron Jawed Angels, which was my first look into the true suffering women went through to get the vote. However, being familiar with the time period and events, I anticipated them as they occurred, which did cause some issues with the pacing for me.

This first third of the novel is extremely dark—with depictions of force-feeding and hunger strikes—and Thompson doesn’t shy away from portraying these events in a realistic manner because they were dark. Even I was cringing through some passages. It was not an easy time for these women, and Elizabeth is changed by her time spent with the suffragists as she embraces their cause.  Even the initial introduction, the first sight of the workhouse, gives you a hint of what we’re in for here.

Ordinarily, Elizabeth didn’t like having someone hanging on her, but tonight she tolerated Anna’s clinging for the warmth of her body. Winter-stripped trees loomed over them in the empty country darkness, reminding her of how alone she was. After a while, she caught sight of an American flag, of all things, visible in the light coming from the workhouse windows. The massive structure took shape as they neared it, sprawling away in every direction, it’s massive wings disappearing into the night.

The novel is categorized as a mystery, but honestly, this is a thriller, through and through. There’s no great mystery to solve here. Elizabeth’s goal is to save herself from Thornton at whatever cost. But even as she digs herself deeper into the suffrage movement for selfish reasons, she finds herself connecting with these women. Anna, for instance, becomes a close friend, as does a society dame by the name of Mrs. Bates.

It's these relationships that lead us to the book’s romantic subplot. Gideon Bates is introduced as the women are released from prison, and while I found the meet-cute a bit … sappy, the pair’s later interactions are full of acerbic charm. I always enjoy a couple that can argue well together, and Gideon and Elizabeth certainly manage that.

“Miss Miles, is something wrong?” he asked, echoing her words.

Her forced smile relaxed. “Of course something is wrong. Women are downtrodden and have no voice in their government and no rights as individuals.”

The final half of the book, however, was what I enjoyed most. We ended up with more diverse characters than I had expected in a series thriller, and we get some strong character arcs for both Elizabeth and Anna. I was actually pretty nervous about some foreshadowing in the first half, as I’m used to queer characters being introduced for the purpose of simply having one and then dying horribly. That, I’m happy to say, was not the case here.

The second half really felt more polished and light-hearted than the first, which is, of course, going to be the case when you’re dealing with the events Thompson decided to include in City of Lies. I have to say, I’ve never seen the suffrage movement used as a backdrop for a historical thriller, and it really was a great one. There are so many things going on during that time frame, intrigue abound even off the front lines. Thompson brought the suffrage movement to life here with honest and well-drawn women and a smart con-artist as well.

Another novel about Elizabeth Miles would certainly be welcome on my shelves.

 

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Ash K. Alexander is a writer and freelance cover artist and book formatter. You can find her on Twitter @ashkalexander or at her blog,  https://ashkalexanderwriter.blogspot.com/

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1 comment
1. Victoria E Thompson
Thanks for the great review, Ash! You are correct, this IS a thriller!
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