>> Tuesday, July 13, 2004
A London night in November 1819. Outside, a mist hovers over the cobblestones and yellow pools of lamplight glow with murky radiance. And inside the glittering mansions of society's finest families lushly dressed ladies dance the night away with coolly elegant gentlemen...and the latest gossip is exchanged with a tilt of a fan. Surely in a world of such supreme confidence, no evil could touch those charmed lives.Ok, wow! Just, wow! This is only my second A+ book this year.
On this cloud-shrouded evening the unthinkable comes to pass: six-year-old Colin Fraser vanishes from the cocoon of his family's Berkeley Square home. His disappearance plunges his socially -- and politically -- prominent parents, Charles and Mélanie Fraser, into a maze of intrigue, one that stretches back to the Napoleonic Wars.
Charles is a former intelligence agent and the grandson of a duke who is now a member of Parliament. He possesses a cool intellect and a burning sense of justice. Driven by the devastation he saw during the war and by his own family's sordid history, he is a man who will not rest until he discovers the truth. Mélanie is a war refugee who charms London's beau monde at routs and receptions, all the while writing pamphlets on child labor and women's education. In a world where marriage is a matter of convenience and love is a game, their union is a model of constancy.
As Colin's ransom, his captors demand a ring...not just any ring, but the legendary Carevalo Ring. Many people, it seems, are enticed by the gold and ruby ornament, but are they lured by its beauty or by the promise of power that surrounds it? And there are those, perhaps even elements in the British government, who would kill to possess it.
Charles and Mélanie's race against time to recover the ring and save their son becomes a dark and perilous game, where plot plays upon counterplot. Their hunt takes them to the Drury Lane Theatre and the debtors' prison in the Marshalsea, a London gaming hell and a Brighton racing stable, a gin-soaked brothel and a Thames-side villa. They uncover a chilling labyrinth of secrets, both personal and political, that binds them together in unexpected ways and threatens to destroy them.
I'll try to not give to much away in my comments, but if you prefer absolutely no spoilers (and this is a book in which it would be a good idea to go in not knowing anything), you might want to stop reading.
Like the other book I gave an A+ grade, Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, Daughter of the Game is not a "romance novel", but a mystery with a strong romance element.
While both books were completely different, both in the type of mystery and in the circumstances of the characters' romance, I actually saw a bit of the Peter - Harriet relationship in the total equality of Charles and Mélanie's, the way they respected one another's capabilities and understood that each person, in the end, belongs only to him or herself. This was especially clear in the end, in the respect shown by the fact that Charles was able to accept and understand that, as the author puts it, Mélanie wasn't only his wife, but a woman with her own goals and loyalties and honour before she met him, and that he would have done the same thing.
I know Mélanie will be a character difficult to accept for many readers, but I greatly admired her. She did what she had to do to defend the ideals she believed in. I can find nothing reprehensible in her behaviour. And I especially respected her for still believing in these ideals and for never making excuses, just accepting the consequences of her behaviour.
Charles I also admired, for having the broadness of mind to consider other viewpoints than the generally accepted. Actually, I enjoyed the fact that both his and Mélanie's worldviews kind of meshed with mine. I guess it's fashionable right now to be very black and white about good and evil, and very despective of moral relativism, but that's what I believe in. I find absolute certainty very unattractive.
In this vein, I also liked that we are not fed the same old, same old English good - French bad you see everywhere. That has always made me uncomfortable, because knowing what I knew about what had happened politically after Waterloo, I always felt more than a little sympathy for the French's cause. Grant really delves into this, and I especially loved what she did with Charles. I also find blind patriotism unattractive....
The plot was interesting, basically gathering all the pieces of a puzzle, slowly, piece by piece. It was a bit repetitious at times, because most of the steps they took played out similarly, but I guess this makes sense. I did guess that final twist, but only because I started thinking "if I were the author.... " It's almost an obligation to add a final twist in the end, and it felt a little too straighforward to have the only villain be exactly who we had known it to be from the beginning. There was only another possibility, so that had to be it.
Still, without Charles and Mélanie and their backstory, this would have been just an ok mystery. These two were wonderful together, they worked perfectly both as "detectives" and as a couple. It's true that we don't really see much of their functioning as a couple throughout the book, but when the book was over, I knew that however hard it would be to accept and process all the revelations of the previous days, these two loved each other enough to do this and were generous enough to not end up throwing certain things in the other's face.