And Only to Deceive is the first book in Tasha Alexander’s mystery series (3 books so far I believe) featuring Victorian aristocrat Emily Bromley. In this book, Lady Emily Bromley is in forced mourning for her husband, who died suddenly on his African safari only months after they were wed. The book starts about a year after his death, and Lady Emily is beginning to chafe at the Victorian requirements and also feeling guilty because her marriage wasn’t a love match, she barely knew her husband and therefore does not feel his loss as acutely as everyone believes she does.
Her husband was a collector and enthusiast of antiquities, and she begins to know him as she explores his collection and one of his favorite haunts, the British Museum. She discovers that her impression of her marriage as one of convenience was not shared by him as well as getting to know his friends and him through his friends as well as meeting new friends as she begins an intellectual awakening by learning Greek. As if all this wasn’t enough, Lady Emily stumbles onto a mystery concerning some of the antiquities in the British Museum, their provenance and authenticity and her husband’s seemingly pivotal role. Oh, and mistaken impressions abound as well as suspicion that her husband’s death may not have been from natural causes.
I should have liked this book a lot. It’s right up my alley. It’s historical, it has the aristocracy and manners. The reviews were positive. But I didn’t. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I read this book during the last weeks of my school semester while I was furiously trying to finish my projects. Maybe I couldn’t give it the attention it deserved. But I thought it was just “ok.”
I think my main problem was that the book seemed to do too much. One minute Lady Emily is indulging her awakening intellect. The next minute she’s taking offense at something her late husband’s dear friend Colin has said and showering favors on another friend and rival. Then she’s scandalizing society by drinking port at a dinner party. Then she’s uncovering a mystery. The plot seemed a bit scattered. And I’ll admit it, I still don’t understand the so-called mystery about the antiquities. I wasn’t quite sure what she thought her late husband’s possible role had been and what nefarious deeds he might have been up to. And oh yeah, let’s throw in a jewel thief mystery in Paris as well. Why not?
I also had issues with the revelation that Emily’s marriage was a love match in her husband’s mind. Based on everything the novel told us about him, the revelations in his journal seemed completely out of character. It seemed false. I think Alexander wanted Philip to be a fully three-dimensional character despite his death, but it didn’t work. I didn’t buy it. And Emily’s awakening and sauciness kind of annoyed me. I felt like her new-found independence and brashness were being shoved down my throat.
I think Alexander had an intriguing premise: an aristocratic Victorian woman who married to satisfy and escape from her mother who finds herself a widow after only a few months. She’s free. She’s young. She’s rich. What does she do now? Subtract the weird, confusing mysteries and THAT’s an interesting novel.
I kind of want to read the sequels, but I don’t know. If they are as annoying as the first one, then it’s a waste of time. We shall see.
- Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series: In the tradition of The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Daughter of the Game (Tracy Grant): Female spies in the Napoleonic Wars and pre-Victorian England