Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, steampunk
Series: Marion Lane #2
Published by Park Row on February 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
The envelope was tied with three delicate silk ribbons: “One of the new recruits is not to be trusted…”
It’s 1959 and a new killer haunts the streets of London, having baffled Scotland Yard. The newspapers call him The Florist because of the rose he brands on his victims. The police have turned yet again to the Inquirers at Miss Brickett’s for assistance, and second-year Marion Lane is assigned the case.
But she’s already dealing with a mystery of her own, having received an unsigned letter warning her that one of the three new recruits should not be trusted. She dismisses the letter at first, focusing on The Florist case, but her informer seems to be one step ahead, predicting what will happen before it does. But when a fellow second-year Inquirer is murdered, Marion takes matters into her own hands and must come face-to-face with her informer—who predicted the murder—to find out everything they know. Until then, no one at Miss Brickett’s is safe and everyone is a suspect.
With brilliant twists and endless suspense, all set within the dazzling walls and hidden passageways of Miss Brickett’s, Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose is a deliciously fun new historical mystery you won’t be able to put down.
The tunnels under post-war London that house Miss Brickett’s top secret and extremely secretive agency of Inquirers and Gadgeteers stretches far under the city in 1959. It seems to reach from an occasionally tenuous connection to the reality above the ground to imaginary realms as diverse as the Invisible Library, Unseen University’s library in the Discworld, all the way north to Hogwarts and out to the Scholomance. It’s a place where the science is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic, and the magic has tentacles in entirely too many places labelled “Here be Dragons”. The monsters there are more than monstrous and dangerous enough to be, if not quite real dragons, entirely too close for comfort.
But the story in Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose, for all the secrets concealed in, for and by Miss Brickett’s, touches more on real-world dangers of the time, along with the darkness that oozes out of the human heart.
Marion Lane, who we were introduced to in the marvelous first book in this series, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, is now in the second year of her (hopefully) three year apprenticeship at Miss Brickett’s. The events of that first year (and first story) have left her scarred but undeterred. She loves her work, she loves Miss Brickett’s, and she is determined to become a full-fledged Inquirer at the end of her three year apprenticeship.
(This is a broad hint, even a hint and a half, to read the first book first. There are a lot of players in this game and one definitely needs a firm grasp on the scorecard.)
But Marion, like the Librarian Irene Winters of the Invisible Library, has a tendency to be the fool that rushes in where angels would rightfully fear to tread. Not that Marion is anymore foolish than Irene, but they both have that tendency bordering on compulsion to leap in hopes that the net will appear – or at least in certainty that if it doesn’t they’ll be able to think of something on the fly – sometimes literally – before they reach that sudden stop at the bottom of their current plummet towards seeming doom.
The case that Marion finds herself in the middle of, whether she planned to be there or not, has dimensions that encompass the world above and the heart of Miss Brickett’s. A case that at first seems like two cases with little to do with one another.
Out in the real world, a Russian spy known as “The Florist” has left behind a series of corpses with ugly calling cards. His victims are branded with a rose on their torsos. Through rather roundabout means, Marion’s mentor at Miss Brickett’s has been informed that Scotland Yard is stumped but is not asking for assistance from Miss Brickett’s as usual because something that has been discovered in the case has put the agency under suspicion.
At the same time, Marion has received an anonymous letter that one of this year’s intake of new recruits is not to be trusted. As the three newbies begin their first year apprenticeship, something rotten is exposed in Miss Brickett’s that may or may not have anything to do with either “The Florist” or the untrustworthy first-year. But the rot that is exposed will turn out to be the most dangerous secret of all.
Because it has divided the formerly unified Miss Brickett’s into a hotbed of suspicion, lies and power-hungry madness that has pit friend against friend and protegee against mentor. All in an attempt to satisfy greed, a lust for power, and a desperation not to be caught at all costs.
A cost that may, quite possible, include the lives of Marion and her friends.
Escape Rating A-: Marion Lane and Miss Brickett’s have tunneled under the crossroads between mystery, fantasy and science fiction and sit in the center of a vast web that encompasses all three genres.
With more than a bit of espionage fiction tossed in to make this mixture a very tasty stew indeed.
While Miss Brickett’s strongly reminds me of the universe of The Invisible Library – and would serve well as a readalike for that series especially now that it has concluded – the way that things work also gives hints of Hogwarts, or the world of A Marvellous Light in that it exists in plain sight, that people in high places know about it, but that it operates in a bit of a hidden pocket of its own.
And even though Miss Brickett’s doesn’t teach or use magic, it still feels a lot like a fantasy.
Very much on my other hand, however, the two issues that Marion feels compelled to solve are both grounded in the real. The case of The Florist, his spy games and his ties to the KGB and the Soviet Union read like a fantasy or alt-history version of the historical case of the Cambridge Five and the infamous British double agents including Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt. The Florist himself may have been considerably over the top, but it’s an over the top version of stuff that actually happened.
The rot in Miss Brickett’s is also all too real, but in an entirely different way. We’ve seen, in real life, in very recent history, just how easy it is to sway people with persuasion, with lies, with propaganda, by seeding doubts, planting suspicions and reaping fears where none originally existed.
Watching those poisoned flowers bloom in a closed, hothouse environment like Miss Brickett’s was chilling – and entirely too real. The tense atmosphere created by the club that becomes a cult just added to the sense of claustrophobia, paranoia and deadly danger that always exists at the fringes of the place.
The two cases fed into one another in ways that were both completely expected and utterly chilling at the same time. We know it’s going to get worse before it even has a chance at getting better – because that part, at least, is something that has happened before and will happen again. It’s humans being human, and sometimes we suck.
As Marion Lane’s adventures (and most definitely misadventures) with the Florist and his “Deadly Rose” come to a close, it’s clear that this case may be wrapped up but that Marion’s adventuring career is FAR from over. I’m looking forward to following Marion Lane’s further escapes whenever she next emerges from the tunnels of Miss Brickett’s.