Monday, December 7, 2009

TEARS OF PEARL by Tasha Alexander

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-38370-1
Genre: Victorian Mystery
Obtained via Library
Reviewed by Gina

At long last embarking on her honeymoon with Colin Hargreaves, Lady Emily is more than ready to take in the archeological sites she has read and dreamed about for the past several years. Tucked away on a train to their first stop, Emily and Colin finally have some time to themselves, that is, until, one of their traveling companions, Sir Richard, takes ill on the train. Not ones to leave a fellow Englishman in the lurch, Emily and Colin become involved in Sir Richard’s concerns including some missing documents. When they arrive in Constantinople, before the Hargreaves can begin to truly explore the ancient city, while on an outing to hear the Sultan’s opera, a woman rushes to the Sultan with news of a concubine, Ceyden’s death. Following the Sultan to the scene of the murder it isn’t long before Colin and Emily are called upon to help solve the crime. While highly unusual for the English to be so involved they are considered key to the investigation because the murdered woman is revealed to be Sir Richard’s daughter.

Colin embarks on the investigation of the comings and goings of his fellow Englishmen and Emily is given access to the harem and its residents yet at each turn she is thwarted because while she is assured they will tell her all they know, she is certain they have been told exactly what to say.

The former valide Sultan, Bezime, befriends Emily yet plays her own brand of political games. As each layer of intrigue is unveiled, another springs up. With the arrival of her friend Margaret, Emily has another woman she can trust and bring along on her queries into the harem. Suspects abound—did Sir Richard kill his daughter in response to the knowledge that she lived as a concubine? Was it her brother Benjamin? The head eunuch? The valide Sultan or another woman jealous of Ceyden catching the Sultan’s eye? As the web thickens Emily must also face the shadows of her own past.

Like many readers I eagerly awaited for TEARS OF PEARL, the latest installment of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily novels of suspense. Sadly the story was quite disappointing to me. At times I felt as if the author was writing by rote with little interest in the story rather than being involved with her characters. Sir Richard tells the story of his younger daughter being kidnapped when she was but a child of five. The moment he lays eyes on the murdered concubine, despite it being almost twenty years later, he knows it is his child. Granted, the reason why is explained, but later on, almost as an after thought. While that may be easily explained, when Bezime meets with Emily she relates some of Ceyden’s history in the harem and how as a child she struggled with speaking English and seemed to have no memory of her past. If that is so, how would they know her name was Ceyden? Being she was kidnapped and sold, it is hard to believe that along the way her name would not be changed. After all, with no memory of her past, how could she say her name? The disclosure was just too pat and appeared to be delivered as simply as possible so Emily and Colin could get involved in solving the murder rather than the personalities involved in it. The whys and wherefores are explained away as if they did not matter.

There are cultural issues and moirĂ©s of the time that did not fit for me. Emily’s access to certain areas seemed far too easy to achieve. I didn't feel any emotion from the characters. It was more like they moved along in a two dimensional world as cutouts rather than the exciting characters I read in ONLY TO DECEIVE, A POISONED SEASON and A FATAL WALTZ. Gone was the delicious tension between Colin and Emily as they mutually pursued each other yet at the same time kept their distance.

The unraveling of the mystery was entertaining. Like the petals of a rose opening each layer of the story brought with it its own fascination. Ms. Alexander does pose a good mystery. A FATAL WALTZ had some wonderful cultural nuances and personalities. You could taste the dishes served, smell the scents as the characters did and felt the air they walked in. It is my hope that if the series continues we will see more of the talent seen in the earlier boooks


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