(Alex Halsey Mystery, #3)
Genre: Historical Mystery (Georgian)
Winter 1763: Alec, Lord Halsey is sent on a diplomatic mission to Midanich, imperial outpost of the Holy Roman Empire, to bargain for the freedom of imprisoned friends. Midanich is a place of great danger and dark secrets; a country at civil war; ruled by a family with madness in its veins. For Alec it is a place of unspeakable memories from which he barely escaped and vowed never to return. But return he must, if he is to save the lives of Emily St. Neots and Sir Cosmo Mahon.
In a race against time, Alec and the English delegation journey across the icy wasteland for the castle fortress where Emily and Cosmo are imprisoned. The severe winter weather is as much an enemy as the soldiers of the opposing armies encamped along the way. And as members of Alec’s party begin to disappear into the night, he begins to suspect it is not the freezing conditions but that a murderer lurks amongst them. Awaiting him at his destination is the Margrave and his sister, demanding nothing less than Alec’s head on a pike.
Where to begin – bloody marvellous is a good start!
The story begins with a death scene -“The bed chamber was darkened and airless. The odour of stale urine, bloody phlegm, and medicinal, pervasive“- which sets the stage for a witty, intriguing and atmospherically dark tale, rounded off with a soul deep romance.
Deadly Peril, the third in the Alec Halsey series, is an incredibly well written Georgian historical mystery, with an accompanying romance. Set in the mid 1700’s, the story begins in London and moves across the sea to the Germanic principality of Midanich, a country in the midst of a debilitating civil war. The new Margrave Prince Ernst’s right to govern is being challenged by his younger half-brother, Prince Viktor. Many at Midanich’s court are unhappy with Prince Ernst’s succession to the throne because of his increasingly odd behaviour, and the control his disgraced twin sister Princess Joanna (rumoured to be mad) exerts over him. The younger charismatic Prince Viktor, barred from the succession because his mother is a commoner, is nevertheless seen by many at court as the future of Midanich, and he has the support of the people.
Into this civil war, steps our amateur sleuth, Alec Lord Halsey. He had vowed never to return to Midanich, but return he must to save the lives of his best friend Sir Cosmo Mahon and Emily St. Neots, beloved granddaughter of Alec’s godmother, who are being held prisoners. Ten years earlier, as secretary to the British Ambassador to the Court of Midanich, a young footloose and fancy free Alec, handsome and charismatic, became the object of a singular passionate obsession. This, and a very public affair, led to his disgrace and imprisonment. To disclose more would be to spoil the story and readers are advised to unfold the story layers for themselves.
This is a multi-layered story with interwoven plots and many surprises and shocks throughout. All are plausible and exciting and culminate in one mind boggling scene which I thought I had guessed correctly, but was wrong footed by the wily minded Ms. Brant at the last minute.
I am in awe of the author’s scholarship as she apparently takes a year to research and write each novel. I’m not surprised because the geographical content alone is awe inspiring. Midanich, the country she has created, is so realistic it is hard to believe it is fiction. If a description is particularly well done, I find I unintentionally conjure up memories; this time (and I show my age here) of Omar Sharif with Julie Christie by his side, fur coats, hats and muffs, in the 1965 British film, Dr Zhivago! The freezing, desolate scenery and sledges skimming over frozen landscape – I can recall vividly! That’s what came to mind while reading Ms. Brant’s descriptions of the vast, icy marshlands of Midanich’s northern provinces. What I call “painting a picture with words”.
I can’t even begin to fully articulate my appreciation of Ms.Brant’s extensive historic knowledge, and the incredibly detailed information she incorporates seamlessly into the story – the embroidery on a gentleman’s frock coat and the travelling tea set, left to Alec by his Mother, intricately and meticulously described in the finest detail. A wonderful feast of information woven into the lives and loves of her living, breathing characters.
In the previous books, Alec had seemed almost God-like, romantic liaisons – yes, likeable – certainly but, in this novel, I particularly liked the way it was revealed he hadn’t always made the right decisions. He comes across as even more delectable with his feet-of-clay image; not perfect, just a man. And those “wire-rimmed spectacles” – Lucinda Brant takes the mundane and ordinary and with a few words – voilà – it’s sexy!
His best friend Sir Cosmo Mahon is developed further too. Previously slightly foppish, albeit endearing and kind, we now see a different man, one with more depth and character. I would really like to see him get his HEA eventually. As usual Alec’s Uncle, Plantagenet Halsey provides comic relief. He is hilarious in his outspokenness and the interactions between him and Olivia, Duchess of Romney-St. Neots is priceless. We even get a glimpse into their past, where it is hinted that they might have, at one time, been attracted to one another – another romance? Now wouldn’t that be fun? Ms. Brant is ever adventurous in playing around with the ages of her characters so who knows? There was another romance hinted at – maybe – but nothing from me on that score as I wish to stay away from the plot to let any readers ,yet to sample this fab offering from Lucinda Brant, the chance of unwrapping it for themselves. Alec and Selina finally get their HEA , after all of their ups and downs, in the most deliciously, romantic way – again nothing further to say on that topic except… sniff!
I must add too that I love the way Lucinda Brant puts so much of herself into her writing. Apart from her obvious love of history and geography, there is the addition of her favourite breeds of dogs. Alec has two greyhounds, Cromwell and Mazarin and, in her Roxton series, the Duke has two whippets, a special little personal touch, one close to her heart, I know.
MY VERDICT: This is yet another fabulous novel from Lucinda Brant and it is hard to grade her books when each one is better than the last and I’ve given 5 stars to all! Simply wonderful – and now I wait impatiently for Alex Wyndham to add his magic touch.
REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STELLAR STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE
Read November 2015
Alec Halsey Mystery series (Click on the book covers for more details):