Happy Friday and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! This week, Research Assistant Tabatha (as a summer send off) has provided a lovely selection of historical fiction and women detectives. So hike up your petticoats and get ready for some good old fashioned espionage!
First, we’ll begin with a tale of the most highly trained civilian spy: a Madame.
India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy (Madam of Espionage Mysteries #3) by Carol K. Carr, In Victorian London, India Black has all the attributes a high-class madam needs to run a successful brothel–wit, beauty, and an ability to lie with a smile. Luckily for Her Majesty’s Government, all these talents also make her a first-rate spy…
India Black, full-time madam and occasional secret agent, is feeling restless, when one of Disraeli’s men calls on her to meet the prime minister–alone. Even though all her previous meetings have been organized by the rakishly handsome spy French, it’s been decided this is a mission India must attempt on her own.
Revolt has spread across Europe and reached the shores of England–anarchists have begun assassinating lords and earls, one by one. Now India must infiltrate the ranks of the underground group responsible for those attacks, the sinister Dark Legion. To stop their dread plot, India will go from the murkiest slums of London to the highest levels of society, uncovering secrets that threaten her very existence…
From beautiful spies, we’ll move to wily criminals with Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio. Based on a true story, comes a sweeping historical novel about a beautiful con artist whose turn-of-the-century escapades take her around the world as she’s doggedly pursued by a Pinkerton Agency detective.
The novel opens in 1917 with our cunning protagonist, May Dugas, standing trial for extortion. As the trial unfolds, May tells her version of events. In 1887, at the tender age of eighteen, May ventures to Chicago in hopes of earning enough money to support her family. Circumstances force her to take up residence at the city’s most infamous bordello, but May soon learns to employ her considerable feminine wiles to extract not only sidelong looks but also large sums of money from the men she encounters. Insinuating herself into Chicago’s high society, May lands a well-to-do fiancé—until, that is, a Pinkerton Agency detective named Reed Doherty intervenes and summarily foils the engagement.
Unflappable May quickly rebounds, elevating seduction and social climbing to an art form as she travels the world, eventually marrying a wealthy Dutch Baron. Unfortunately, Reed Doherty is never far behind and continues to track May in a delicious cat-and-mouse game as the newly-minted Baroness’s misadventures take her from San Francisco to Shanghai to London and points in between.
The Pinkerton Agency really did dub May the “Most Dangerous Woman,” branding her a crafty blackmailer and ruthless seductress. To many, though, she was the most glamorous woman to grace high society. Was the real May Dugas a cold-hearted swindler or simply a resourceful provider for her poor family? As the narrative bounces back and forth between the trial taking place in 1917 and May’s devious but undeniably entertaining path to the courtroom—hoodwinking and waltzing her way through the gilded age and into the twentieth century—we’re left to ponder her guilt as we move closer to finding out what fate ultimately has in store for our irresistible adventuress.
The next tale also showcases a woman operating outside the rules, though this time a bit less criminally, in Susanna Calkins’ A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate. For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself. Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.
In her debut novel Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, Susanna Calkins seamlessly blends historical detail, romance, and mystery in a moving and highly entertaining tale.
In The Inquisitor’s Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis, we bring you espionage, double-crossing, illicit love, religion, and the Inquisition! (because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!)
From the author of the critically acclaimed BORGIA BRIDE and THE SCARLET CONTESSA, comes another irresistible historical novel set during the Spanish Inquisition about a young woman who will stop at nothing to save her people from Torquemada’s torturers:
THE INQUISITOR’S WIFE.
In 1480 Seville, Marisol, a fearful young conversa (descendant of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is ashamed of her Jewish blood. Forced into a sham marriage with a prosecutor for the new Inquisition, Marisol soon discovers that her childhood sweetheart, Antonio, has just returned to Seville and is also working for the inquisitors. When Marisol’s father is arrested and tortured during Spain’s first auto da fe, Marisol comes to value her Jewish heritage and vows to fight the Inquisition. When she discovers that her beloved Antonio is working to smuggle conversos safely out of Spain, she joins him and risks her life on behalf of her people; a passionate romance follows.
Unfortunately, Marisol does not realize that her supposedly kind and gentle inquisitor-husband has been using her all along to lead Antonio and her fellow conversos to their doom…
Last but not least, is a retooling of an old favorite: The Madman’s Daughter (The Madman’s Daughter #1) by Megan Shepherd.
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. (figured out which book it’s based on yet?) And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.
Inspired by H. G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman’s Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we’ll do anything to know and the truths we’ll go to any lengths to protect.