A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander is the 11th Lady Emily Mystery, where Lady Emily travels to Greece where a ghost from her past returns to haunt her amid the ruins.
One of the things I love about historical fiction is seeing the world through the lens of the past, along with the thrill of discovery. Tasha Alexander’s A Terrible Beauty takes the reader on a journey to Greece and offers them a tale of ancient myth and present-day mystery.
Hoping to cheer up her lovelorn friend, Lady Emily designs a trip to Greece and a relaxing stay at her home on Santorini. Along with her husband and another friend, the quartet set out for peace, quiet, and restoration. Upon arriving, however, Lady Emily discovers a dead man in one of her guest rooms and another standing before her. Philip Ashton, Emily’s first husband, died in Africa a decade earlier but currently stands in her foyer.
He offers a tale of attempted murder, mistaken identity, and a rare historical find: a piece of bronze, allegedly part of the helmet of the great warrior Achilles. Reeling from the revelation that Philip indeed appears alive, Emily finds herself thrown into the hunt for the now missing Achilles bronze, dealing with assassins, and her failed attempts at a relaxing getaway.
I find Emily somewhat a kindred spirit: marrying a man she barely knows to get out of her mother’s house, the small joy of having him run off to leave her to her own devices, her fantastic and well-honed sarcasm:
My mother insists—rather emphatically, if not quite hysterically—that respectable wives should have the decency to faint when about to be confronted by a spouse long thought to be dead. It should surprise no one of my acquaintance to learn I failed her on that account. My knees did not so much as sway at Mrs. Katevatis’s news. While I would like to credit my strong constitution, my dislike of affectation, and the generally imperturbable quality of my character, it would be somewhat dishonest to do so. This is not, as Colin suggests, a result of my having an incorrect grasp of the definition of imperturbable, a term he insists suits him far better than me.
Rather, it was due to having been barraged with thoughts of Philip even before we left England.
After receiving the mysterious envelope addressed to The Viscountess Ashton, finding Philip’s journal on my desk, hearing his name spoken aloud in the London Zoo, and twice having thought I saw him since leaving Britain, I was all but primed for his appearance.
“Yes, Nico. He arrived last night with a friend. There had been an accident of some sort—”
And then, as if he had never been gone all these years, a figure stepped into the doorway, interrupting her. “I imagine it would be best if I took things from here, Mrs. Katevatis, ευχαριστώ … Thank you.”
My feet felt as if they had been encased in lead while some evil force drained all the blood from my body. He stood not quite so tall as I remembered, but I recognized his sandy hair. There had been a time when I could not recall whether his eyes were blue or gray, and I had asked Colin to remind me, but now, seeing their pale cornflower again, they were instantly familiar. His nose was not quite as I recalled, but those eyes were unmistakable. My jaw went slack, and I felt myself start to sway. I have always prided myself on not fainting, but if ever an occasion called for it, it was this. However, I did not succumb and was already steadying myself when Colin reached out to assist me just as Philip—but it could not be Philip!—stepped forward, his arms stretched before him.
“Er—I—perhaps—” Colin stumbled over the words. I could not remember when I had last heard my husband reduced to incoherent inanities.
“Quite,” the man replied with a grin. “I could not have said it better myself.”
“I require no assistance,” I said, backing away from both of them. “I merely—”
“Whisky,” Margaret said. “At once.” She put a firm arm around my shoulder and pushed me into the house.”
Not to say that I’ve married anyone for the sake of getting away from my mother, but I’d be lying if it weren’t a tempting thought. And I certainly appreciate Margaret. She knows how to deal with the inexplicable.
The story is sprinkled with fine moments of sass, and Emily has a large measure of autonomy and agency, which I appreciate. I do wish there had been more regarding Emily’s investigations into Philip’s death. To be honest, if I married a man I barely knew and he ran off to another continent where he unfortunately perished, I’m not sure I’d suddenly deem his death suspicious. There’s also no given reason for the conclusions Emily finds, so it feels more like a dropped plot line than something substantial to the story.
Emily also has a tendency to slip into textbook style descriptions and historical background, which rocked me out of the narrative. However, if you’re a fan of Greek mythology and history, this should be right up your alley. My only other criticism is that the prologue doesn’t seem to fit. The Emily we meet first is not the Emily who drives the story, which is set a decade later. Given the hint about her investigating her first husband’s death, I thought that was the story I’d be told.
A Terrible Beauty does have it’s merits: the voice is good, the use of Greek mythology is interesting, and the basis for the narrative is derived from a true account of mistaken and assumed identities. If you’re looking for a nice fall read with a dash of romance, along with mystery and a taste for Greece, give this one a shot.
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Meghan Harker grew up in a small, awkwardly-named town in Georgia. She attended Brenau University, where she earned her BA in English and a minor in Graphic Design; she also attended the University of Cambridge, England, where she didn't quite master the perfect Oxbridge accent. She's an avid reader, writer, and fire spinner. She's currently working her first novel, a paranormal thriller. Visit her blog at ExquisitelyOdd.com.