Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine Mathews

Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine MathewsDeath on a Winter Stroll (Merry Folger #7) by Francine Mathews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, mystery
Series: Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery #1
Pages: 288
Published by Soho Crime on November 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

No-nonsense Nantucket detective Merry Folger grapples with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and two murders as the island is overtaken by Hollywood stars and DC suits.

Nantucket Police Chief Meredith Folger is acutely conscious of the stress COVID-19 has placed on the community she loves. Although the island has proved a refuge for many during the pandemic, the cost to Nantucket has been high. Merry hopes that the Christmas Stroll, one of Nantucket’s favorite traditions, in which Main Street is transformed into a winter wonderland, will lift the island’s spirits. But the arrival of a large-scale TV production, and the Secretary of State and her family, complicates matters significantly.

The TV shoot is plagued with problems from within, as a shady, power-hungry producer clashes with strong-willed actors. Across Nantucket, the Secretary’s troubled stepson keeps shaking off his security detail to visit a dilapidated house near conservation land, where an intriguing recluse guards secrets of her own. With all parties overly conscious of spending too much time in the public eye and secrets swirling around both camps, it is difficult to parse what behavior is suspicious or not—until the bodies turn up.

Now, it’s up to Merry and Detective Howie Seitz to find a connection between two seemingly unconnected murders and catch the killer. But when everyone has a motive, and half of the suspects are politicians and actors, how can Merry and Howie tell fact from fiction?

This latest installment in critically acclaimed author Francine Mathews’ Merry Folger series is an immersive escape to festive Nantucket, a poignant exploration of grief as a result of parental absence, and a delicious new mystery to keep you guessing.

My Review:

The Nantucket Stroll sounds like a lovely holiday tradition. Setting this mystery at the time of the 2021 Stroll, just after the President’s own traditional visit with his family, the first visit and first ‘regular’ Stroll as everyone hopes the worst of COVID has passed grounds the mystery into the here and and the now.

(No, the President, whose identity is screamingly obvious – and also quite real as he and his family did visit Nantucket for the 2021 Stroll and do have a family tradition of attending – is not an actual part of this story. But the Secretary of State, who is very much and very obviously fictional – certainly does.)

After the President and his Secret Service detail leave the island, Police Chief Folger faces not one but two invasions. There’s the Secretary of State, her husband, his restless, shiftless adult child of a son, the Secretary’s security detail, her staff, her childhood on the island and her husband’s big ego and bad memories of the place.

Pretending that they are on the island for a happy family vacation is just a bit of a stretch.

Then there’s the even bigger incursion from Hollywood filming a direct-to-streaming TV series on the sprawling estate of THE local tech billionaire. Between the director, the co-stars, the producer and chief financial backer and all the other members of the cast and crew – not to mention their egos and outsized personalities, the horde at the property known as Ingrid’s Gift is even bigger than the gang that SecState brought home with her.

Not that all is exactly well in either of the invading “armies” but their problems are not Merry’s problem – at least not until the first dead body turns up, with links to more of the visitors in both parties than could possibly be explained by the long arm of coincidence.

Which Police Chief Folger, being a very good cop, does not believe in. At all.

Escape Rating A+: In spite of its small-town setting, Death on a Winter Stroll is not a cozy mystery, even though it’s a setup that could easily lend itself to one. But Merry Folger isn’t a cozy sort of person – and I like her a lot for that – and the murders she has to solve, at least in this outing – are far, far from cozy. Not so much the murders themselves – as cozies manage to cozy up all sorts of ways that people shuffle off this mortal buffalo. But the motives for these murders and the slime that is revealed in their investigation are simply not the stuff of which cozies are made.

But if you like your murder mysteries seasoned with the nitty-gritty of real life and real people – even really disgusting people – Death on a Winter Stroll is absolutely excellent. And Merry Folger is a terrific avatar for competence porn. She’s very human – not superhuman – but she’s extremely good at her job and not afraid to display it – especially to people who think she’s less-than because she’s relatively young, because she’s a woman, because she’s a small-town police chief and not a big city cop or federal agent – or just because they’re assholes used to throwing around their power and privilege.

Death on a Winter Stroll turned out to be a one-sitting read for me, I sunk right into it and didn’t emerge until I was done three hours later. I was completely absorbed in the mystery, the setting and the characters, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything at all, in spite of this book being book SEVEN in an ongoing series that began with Death in the Off-Season. Whether it’s because this is the first post-pandemic book in the series, or whether the author is just that good at keeping things self-contained, I got what I needed about Merry’s past – including the loss of her grandfather to the pandemic – without having read the previous books.

Howsomever, I enjoyed this so damn much that I am planning to get them all. This series has all the hallmarks of an excellent comfort read, and I need more of those. Doesn’t everyone these days?

In addition to liking Merry as a character, and being able to identify with her in all sorts of wonderful ways, I appreciated the way that the mystery in this story worked, and that it dealt with real, important and ugly issues without either sensationalizing them or trivializing them.

One of the things that also made this story work for me is that the red herrings were more than tasty. There was one character who started out in a hole – or at least a whole lot of suspicion – and couldn’t seem to stop digging himself deeper. It would have been an easy solution to make him the murderer – or to have the cops attempt to pin it on him. The actual solution was much more devious and it was great the way the investigation didn’t fall into the trap of zeroing in on the obvious suspect first.

There was both compassion and redemption for a lot of the people who got caught up in the mess. None of the solutions were easy, most of them included a lot of pain and either past or present trauma. But the characters felt real, Merry and her family, friends and colleagues most of all.

In short, I loved this mystery, am so, so glad that I joined this tour and was introduced to this author, and can’t wait until I have the chance to dive into the rest of the series. And I’m utterly gobsmacked that the author also writes the Jane Austen Mysteries as Stephanie Barron. I think I hear my virtually towering TBR pile piling up another turret!

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written thirty books, including six previous novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-SeasonDeath in Rough WaterDeath in a Mood IndigoDeath in a Cold Hard Light, Death on Nantucket, and Death on Tuckernuck) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

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Spotlight: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden + Excerpt

Spotlight: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden + ExcerptUnder a Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan #2) by Karen Odden
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #2
Pages: 336
Published by Crooked Lane Books on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.
September 1878. One night, as the pleasure boat the Princess Alice makes her daily trip up the Thames, she collides with the Bywell Castle, a huge iron-hulled collier. The Princess Alice shears apart, throwing all 600 passengers into the river; only 130 survive. It is the worst maritime disaster London has ever seen, and early clues point to sabotage by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the path to restoring Irish Home Rule.
For Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family, the case presents a challenge. Accused by the Home Office of willfully disregarding the obvious conclusion, and berated by his Irish friends for bowing to prejudice, Corravan doggedly pursues the truth, knowing that if the Princess Alice disaster is pinned on the IRB, hopes for Home Rule could be dashed forever.
Corrovan’s dilemma is compounded by Colin, the youngest Doyle, who has joined James McCabe’s Irish gang. As violence in Whitechapel rises, Corravan strikes a deal with McCabe to get Colin out of harm’s way. But unbeknownst to Corravan, Colin bears longstanding resentments against his adopted brother and scorns his help.
As the newspapers link the IRB to further accidents, London threatens to devolve into terror and chaos. With the help of his young colleague, the loyal Mr. Stiles, and his friend Belinda Gale, Corravan uncovers the harrowing truth—one that will shake his faith in his countrymen, the law, and himself.

Welcome to the blog tour for Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden, organized by Austenprose PR. I’m especially excited to be part of this tour as I’ve already read this book and was absolutely thrilled by it. It’s a dark and compelling historical mystery (and so is Inspector Corravan’s first outing, Down a Dark River). If you’re intrigued by this excerpt, take a look at my reviews of Down a Dark River as well as Under a Veiled Moon to see just what a treat is in store for you!

Excerpt from Chapter 2, pp. 8-10 of Under a Veiled Moon © 2022, Karen Odden, published by Crooked Lane Books 

I knocked twice and inserted my key in the lock.

Even as I did so, I heard the twins, Colin and Elsie, their voices raised as they talked over each other—Elsie with a sharp edge of frustration, Colin growling in reply. Odd, I thought as I pushed open the door. Since they were children, they’d baited each other and teased, but I’d never known them to quarrel. 

Colin sat in a kitchen chair tilted backward, the heel of one heavy boot hooked over the rung. He glared up at Elsie, who stood across the table, her hand clutching a faded towel at her hip, her chin set in a way I recognized. 

“Hullo,” I said. “What’s the matter?” 

Both heads swiveled to me, and in unison, they muttered, “Nothing.” 

They could have still been five, caught spooning the jam out of the jar Ma hid behind the flour tin. Except that under the stubble of his whiskers, there was a puffiness along Colin’s cheek that appeared to be the remnants of a bruise. 

Colin thunked the front legs of the chair onto the floor and pushed away from the table. “I got somethin’ to do.” He took his coat off the rack—not his old faded one, I noticed, but a new one—and stalked out the door, pulling it closed behind him. 

I raised my eyebrows and turned to Elsie. She grimaced. “He’s just bein’ an eejit, like most men.” Her voice lacked its usual good humor; she was genuinely angry. 

Jaysus, I thought. What’s happened?
But I’d give Elsie a moment. “Where’s Ma?”

“Went down to the shop for some tea.” She stepped to the sideboard and moved the kettle to the top of the stove. The handle caught her sleeve, pulling it back far enough that I caught sight of a white bandage. 

“Did you hurt your wrist?” 

She tugged the sleeve down. “Ach, I just fell on the stairs. Clumsy of me.” 

The broken window and Colin’s abrupt departure had been enough to alert me to something amiss. Even without those signs, though, I wouldn’t have believed her. I knew the shape a lie took in her voice. 

“No, you didn’t,” I said. 

Her back was to me, and she spoke over her shoulder. “It’s nothing, Mickey.” 

I approached and took her left elbow gently in mine to turn her. “Let me see.” 

Reluctantly, she let me unwrap the flannel. Diagonal across her wrist was a bruise such as a truncheon or a pipe might leave, purple and yellowing at the edges. 

I looked up. “Who did this?” My voice was hoarse. 

Her eyes, blue as mine, stared back. “Mickey, don’t look like that. It was dark, and I doubt he did it on purpose.” 

“Jaysus, Elsie.” I let go of her, so she could rewrap it. “Who?” 

“I don’t know! I was walking home from Mary’s house on Wednesday night, and before I knew it, twenty lads were around me, fightin’ and brawlin’, and I jumped out of the way, but one of them hit my wrist, and I fell.” 

“What were you doing walking alone after dark? Where was Colin?” 

She gave a disparaging “pfft.” “As if I’d know. Some nights he doesn’t come home until late. Or not at all.” 

Harry’s words came back to me: “Out . . . as usual.” 

I cast my mind back to my own recent visits. Colin had often been absent, partly because he’d been working on the construction of the new embankment, but that had ended in July. So where was he spending his time now? And where had he earned the money for his new coat? 

We both heard Ma’s footsteps on the inside stairs. 

“Don’t tell Ma,” Elsie said hurriedly, her voice low. The bandage was completely hidden by her sleeve. “She has enough to worry about. Swear, Mickey.” 

Even as I promised, I wondered what else was worrying Ma. But as the door at the top of the inner stairs opened, I had my smile ready. 

Ma emerged, carrying a packet of tea from the shop. “Ah, Mickey! I’m glad ye came.” Her face shone with genuine warmth, and she smoothed her coppery hair back from her temple. Her eyes flicked around the room, landing on Elsie. “Colin left?” The brightness in her expression dimmed. 

“Just now,” Elsie replied. Their gazes held, and with the unfailing instinct that develops in anyone who grew up trying to perceive trouble before it struck, I sensed meaning in that silent exchange. But before I could decipher it, Elsie shrugged, and Ma turned to me, her hazel eyes appraising. 

“You look less wraithy than usual.” She reached up to pat my cheek approvingly. “Elsie, fetch the preserves. I’ll put the water on.” 

“I’ll do it, Ma.” I went to the stove, tonged in a few lumps of coal from the scuttle and shut the metal door with a clang. As Elsie sliced the bread, I filled the kettle and Ma took down three cups and saucers from the shelf. 

The tension I sensed amid my family derived from something drifting in the deep current, not bobbing along the surface, driven by a single day’s wind and sun. Something had changed. 

About the Author:

Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP). Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Karen lives in Arizona with her family and her rescue beagle Rosy.

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Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore

Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. MooreIn the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 384
Published by Shadow Mountain on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Based on the true story of the free-spirited daughter of Queen Victoria.
Princess Louise’s life is upended after her father’s untimely death. Captive to the queen’s overwhelming mourning, Louise is forbidden to leave her mother’s tight circle of control and is eventually relegated to the position of personal secretary to her mother—the same position each of her sisters held until they were married.
Already an accomplished painter, Louise risks the queen’s wrath by exploring the art of sculpting, an activity viewed as unbefitting a woman. When Louise involves herself in the day’s political matters, including championing the career of a female doctor and communicating with suffragettes, the queen lays down the law to stop her and devotes her full energy to finding an acceptable match for her defiant daughter.
Louise is considered the most beautiful and talented daughter of Queen Victoria, but finding a match for the princess is no easy feat. Protocols are broken, and Louise exerts her own will as she tries to find an open-minded husband who will support her free spirit.
In the Shadow of a Queen is the story of a battle of wills between two women: a daughter determined to forge her own life beyond the shadow of her mother, and a queen resolved to keep the Crown’s reputation unsullied no matter the cost.

My Review:

There’s a saying that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But sometimes, history repeats even when it is remembered. Because before Elizabeth II, the longest ruling monarch in British history, there was Victoria, relegated to being the second longest ruling monarch in that history. And there are definitely elements of that history that repeats because the patterns for it were set in protocol and tradition long before either was born.

Princess Louise c. 1860s

Queen Victoria is the queen under whose shadow all of her children existed, but the one whose early life is examined in this fictional biography is that of Princess Louise, her fourth daughter and NINTH child. The focus is on Louise because she is the one who rebelled against her mother’s strictures the most in the end and became a talented and prolific artist and sculptor. Her statues of her mother are still on display at Kensington Palace and Lichfield Cathedral in England and McGill University in Canada.

In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the unconventional princess as a girl and young woman, in the ten critical years of her life after the death of her beloved father, Prince Albert. It’s the story of Louise growing up in a household of never-ending mourning amid endless and often contradictory restrictions, trying to find a space for herself in a world that remained under the constant, depressing pall of her mother’s grief.

Rather than a portrait of a rebellious royal, In the Shadow of a Queen is instead the portrait of a girl growing into womanhood under the shadow of a mother who is both larger than life and a law unto herself as that princess sows the seeds of the rebel she will one day become. Once she emerges into her own light.

Escape Rating B: As the story of Princess Louise’s early years, this is a story of obedience and eventually manipulation and maneuvering rather than rebellion. And unfortunately, disobedience would have been a lot more interesting to read about than obedience turns out to be.

At the same time, while Louise’s personal perspective on events is that of a child in the early parts of the book, what she is observing is a fascinating portrait of life in the royal household in the 1860s and 1870s. It’s easy for the reader to get caught up in the day-to-day happenings, even when not all that much happens from day to day.

What grabbed me in particular were questions outside of Louise’s experience because they reflect more recent events. Like Victoria, Elizabeth II reigned long and well into her Prince of Wales’ adulthood. Bertie was 60 when he finally became King Edward VII after a scandal plagued marriage and a long and strained relationship with his mother because of those scandals. While King Charles III’s relationship with his mother seems to have been less fraught, the scandal part of their stories does have some parallels.

The restrictions on not just Louise’s life but on any possible husband for her and all of the rules and regulations – and interference from the Queen in their lives even before the wedding – can’t help but make readers reflect on how much things have remained the same even with more than a century in between.

In spite of that invasive, restrictive, and sometimes downright capricious interference, the story ends with Louise’s marriage to John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Dukedom of Argyll. The story portrays their marriage as a love match, resulting in a happy ever after for the book that was not reflected in the historical record. But it does mark a convenient place to bring the story of Louise’s early years to a relatively optimistic conclusion.

This version of Louise’s story is an intimate portrait. While not told from directly inside Louise’s head, it is focused on her perspective and only deals with outside events as she would have known about them. A perspective that expands as she grows from a tween into a woman in her early twenties. It is a family portrait, just that the family in question was, at the time, the ruling family of an empire that spanned the globe.

However, In the Shadow of a Queen is not the only such portrait of Princess Louise to be published this year or even this season. An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blaylock, also focuses on Louise’s early adulthood, but more specifically looks at her artistic ventures outside of the Palace and her many rumored romances. I can’t resist comparing the one book to the other, so I’ll be reviewing Louise’s other fictionalized biography in the coming weeks.

Because whether one looks at her art, her romances or her strained relationship with the short but towering figure of Queen Victoria, her life and her times were absolutely fascinating. Just as In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the artistic rebel as a young princess, the times in which she lived serve as a picture of the events and the family that shaped the world we live in today. For both good and ill.

Review: A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen

Review: A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa ArlenA Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, historical fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on July 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A sumptuous novel based on the fascinating true story of Belle Epoque icon Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, a woman determined to shatter the boundaries of the fashion world and support herself and her young daughter with her magnificent designs.
Lucy Duff Gordon knows she is talented. She sees color, light, fabric, and texture in ways few other people do. But is the world ready for her? A world dominated by men who would try to control her and use her art for their own gain?
After being deserted by her wealthy husband, Lucy is desperate to survive. She turns to her one true talent to make a living. As a little girl, the dresses she made for her dolls were the envy of her group of playmates. Now, she uses her courageous innovations in Belle Époque fashion to support her own little girl. Lucile knows it is an uphill battle, and a single woman is not supposed to succeed on her own, but she refuses to give up. She will claim her place in the fashion world; failure simply is not an option.
Then, on a frigid night in 1912, Lucy’s life changes once more, when she becomes one of 706 people to survive the sinking of the Titanic. She could never have imagined the effects the disaster would have on her career, her marriage to her second husband, and her legacy. But no matter what life throws at her, Lucile will live on as a trailblazing and fearless fashion icon, never letting go of what she worked so hard to earn. This is her story.

My Review:

In historical fiction it seems as if behind every successful woman there’s either a rotten first husband, a harridan of a mother, or both. In A Dress of Violet Taffeta, this fictionalized biography of groundbreaking British couturier Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, there’s both.

(Historically, we’re certain about the rotten first husband. She divorced him for multiple infidelities and her divorce was granted in 1895. Whether her mother was quite the harridan portrayed in this fictional account of her life is not so certain – but it makes for an even better story.)

What made Lucy special, and fascinating enough for her to be portrayed more than once in both fiction and biography, are the choices she made and the life that she led. She’s famous, not for who she married or who she knew – although she absolutely married better the second time around and certainly knew the rich and famous of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but because of what she did.

She had a dream, and she worked for decades to achieve it. And succeed – which she certainly did. To support herself, her daughter, and her widowed mother (see harridan above) Lucy took her talent for not just dressmaking but dress designing and turned it into a worldwide brand of haute couture at a time when all the famous fashion houses were headed by men.

Lucile dress designed by Lucy Duff-Gordon

Her company, her brand, Lucile, Ltd, was an innovator both as a business and as a design studio, inventing trends that became the foundation of the modern fashion industry. She was the first to train models and use shows to display her creations. And that was only one of her “firsts”.

She was a pioneer and a trailblazer in a world that may have been changing but still expected women like her to sit and look pretty. She chose to make a life, a business and a career out of making other women look pretty instead.

In some ways, her story is a “rags to riches” tale. Lucy pulled herself up – and as many women as she could take with her – by her own shoebuttons if not bootstraps – going from wondering whether she could pay the rent and feed her family to opening shops in Paris and New York in addition to her signature London shop and studio.

But that wealth and fame bought her – along with her second husband, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, a first-class cabin on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Both Lucy and Cosmo survived their harrowing ordeal – only for them to lose their reputations in the relentless search for scapegoats in the aftermath.

Whatever the ratio of facts to conjecture in this particular fictionalized biography, the life of Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon makes for a fascinating read.

Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon

Escape Rating A-: Lucy Duff-Gordon led a great big huge storied life. Hers would have been a larger-than-life story even without the misadventure of the Titanic. With it, she becomes an English version of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, another famous female entrepreneur – albeit American – who survived that disaster. (And they did meet afterwards!)

Lucy’s story as written here is utterly compelling. She starts with nothing but a dream and the barebones of a plan. With a bit of help from her sister (who also became famous as the novelist Elinor Glyn and creator of the concept of the “It girl”) Lucy turned that dream into, a somewhat more realistic plan that was going to take all of her time, effort and attention for years to turn into a success. Which she eventually did.

This was the part of the story I loved best, where Lucy is working flat-out all the hours of the day and entirely too many of the hours of the night to turn her dream into something that will keep them all afloat. This was also the part of the story where the second perspective, that of Celia Franklin, her once scullery maid turned right hand woman was best presented alongside Lucy’s own. We see what Lucy is thinking and feeling but also get a glimpse into what an opportunity it was and how many opportunities it, in turn, provided to others.

(Celia was not a real historical person, but rather a combination of two separate people. Her perspective on Lucy sheds a lot of light, but certainly made me wonder how much of that perspective was fabricated rather than based on history. Lucy’s insistence on bringing other women up in her studio by providing them with good jobs at decent wages under excellent working conditions reads well in 21st century terms but may or may not reflect her actual views. I wish we knew.)

But as much as I loved the part about building her business, once it was built the story shifted to her second marriage (a bit, as much as Lucy seems to have) and to her higher and higher rise into the upper echelons of society – at least in New York City. The parts about the business are a case of the journey being more interesting than the destination, but if her relationship with Cosmo was meant to portray a grand romance I’ll admit that I wasn’t feeling it.

Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t an excellent choice for Lucy. As her husband, he could have forced her back into the kind of life that women were expected to have. Instead, he was as much of an iconoclast as she was and they were a good match. I bought that their marriage was successful but not the romance of it. And that may have been an accurate impression after all.

There are things in Lucy’s life that are either left out or elided over, and the biggest of these was in the manner and timing of its ending. The aftermath of the Titanic disaster was disastrous in an entirely different way for Cosmo Duff-Gordon. He was one of the scapegoats of the inquiries and his reputation was ruined in the press. While he was eventually exonerated, the public and the press never forgot, and the loss of his reputation cast a pall over his remaining years. That the author chose to end Lucy’s story on a note of recovery made sense fictionally – we want stories to end happily, after all – but probably didn’t reflect the reality of the rest of their lives.

I’ve written a LOT about this particular book. Obviously I was caught up in it and it gave me a lot to think about. Also, there always seem to be two issues in historical fiction that is based this closely on real history. One is the question of how it reads, while the other is the question about how much it does or does not match the historical facts that are known.

In the case of A Dress of Violet Taffeta, it reads very well indeed. And most of the variations from history make sense in the course of the story’s narrative, even though they niggle a bit as the amateur historian in this reader. All in all, a compelling read about a woman whose achievements made her larger-than-life.