Fresh Meat: Tasha Alexander’s A Crimson Warning

Tasha Alexander A Crimson Warning, the Sixth Lady Emily Mystery
A Crimson Warning, the sixth Lady Emily mystery
I was dancing while he burned, but I had no way of knowing that, not then, while spinning on the tips of my toes, my husband’s grip firm around my waist as he led me around the ballroom again and again, glistening beads of sweat forming on his forehead. My heart was light; my head full of joy, my only complaint the temperature of the room. Its warmth was oppressive, humid and thick; the air heavy with the oil of too many perfumes. Looking back, I realize I had not even the beginning of an understanding of real heat, or of the pain of fire with its indiscriminate implacability. How could I? I was in Mayfair at a ball. The man meeting his fiery end might as well have been on the opposite side of the earth.

Lady Emily Hargreaves is looking forward to enjoying the delights of the London season, which for her means reading The Aeneid, corrupting her best friend Ivy, and joining the Women’s Liberal Federation to win the vote for women.  Before Lady Emily has a chance to enjoy herself, however, her husband Colin, an agent for the British government, is called away to investigate the murder of a gentleman of their acquaintance under mysterious circumstances (are there any other kind?).  If that weren’t enough to keep her occupied, London society is quaking in their boots over an daring miscreant who is splashing red paint, like a giant scarlet A, on the homes of the ton. Soon, all of London society is either living in fear that they will be the next target, or reveling in the disgrace of their enemies. Are the two crimes connected?  Can Lady Emily and Colin uncover the identity of the mastermind behind it all before another innocent life is lost?

I’m a sucker for mysteries set in Victorian London, if there is such a thing as past lives, I definitely lived during this time period.  A Crimson Warning is the sixth book in the Lady Emily Mystery series and hands down the best thus far.  What makes Tasha Alexander’s books so compelling is not just the cleverly constructed mysteries but her deep understanding of Victorian society, the rules and regulations, and just how far one can go before one is considered beyond the pale. The reader is always aware that Lady Emily is cut some slack as far as her eccentricities because of her position in society. In A Crimson Warning, the reader is exposed to the hypocrisy behind those rules.  As long as one’s foibles remains a secret, one’s position is society is secure but once they are revealed, complete ruination. Nowhere is that hypocrisy more evident than in the singularly unpleasant character of Winifred Harris, one of those smug women who enjoy nothing more than to lord their supposed moral superiority over others. There are secrets galore in A Crimson Warning.

Alexander seamlessly weaves in social commentary without it seeming heavy-handed or like a polemic. Not just women’s suffrage of which Emily is an enthusiastic proponent but also the plight of the poor. Emily and Colin’s search leads them to a match factory which employs those who would otherwise not be employed elsewhere do to infirmities. On the surface, it seems like a grand idea; however, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

We followed him again, out of the main workroom, and I nearly retched when we crossed into what he called the infirmary. Rickety cots, their linens worn and dirty, were pushed so close together there was no space for a nurse to walk between them—not that there was a nurse anywhere to be seen. Every makeshift bed was full and the stench in here were worse than that of the sulphur and phosphorus. This place smelled of death and decay, of blood and urine. Our presence was greeted with barely coherent moans as the patients struggled to sit up and reach for us. I didn’t need to understand their words to know they needed help.

However, for me, it is the relationships that make a Lady Emily mystery such a joy to read. Lady Emily is the perfect example of the Victorian “New Woman,” independent of thought and means, with her penchant for Greek and Latin, and the more salacious novels of the period, and more than capable of taking care of herself.  She is perfectly matched by her husband Colin Hargreaves. Theirs is a marriage of equals, unusual in the Victorian era. I’ve enjoyed watching this relationship unfold over the past few books, although the romance never overshadows the mystery in the novels.

I also confess a fondness for Emily’s childhood friend, that scoundrel Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge whose flirtatious banter with Emily is one of the delights of the series.  When Emily discovers the body of a friend, Jeremy is there to offer his own special brand of comfort, teaching her the delights of single malt Scotch.

“You only think that,” he said. “There’s no better way to forget what we saw. We’ll start with something from the West Coast Highlands.”  He opened the bottle and poured a splash into each of two glasses. “Oban, because I’ve always thought it tastes like Christmas. Cheers.”

I now have several new Scotches to try thanks to Jeremy and Emily! My only quibble is that the second son of an Earl is not referred to as “Lord So and So,” but the “Honorable So and So.”

Click here to read an excerpt of the first two chapters.


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon loves to write about Scandalous Women & the men that loved them. Her first book, Scandalous Women, was published by Perigee Books in March 2011. Visit her at scandalouswoman.blogspot.com.

Comments

  1. Deborah Lacy

    I love the title of this book!

  2. Megan Frampton

    I read the first of this series, and really liked it. Like you, I like mysteries set in Victorian London, and the crime (in the first book, at least) was an actual mystery, not just an excuse to have lots of running about. Thanks for reminding me about it!

  3. KateH

    Finally – I’ve been waiting for this one for months!

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