Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan

(my copy features the green dress)

GENRE: historical mystery

Spring 1797. The war with France deepens, the Channel Fleet has mutinied ...and a ruthless traitor lurks within fashionable London society. Such matters should not concern young Mary Finch, who has recently inherited an unexpected fortune. But her new status brings her little pleasure, and she longs for freedom and adventure. Mary's restless spirit leads her to a meeting with an elusive spymaster, who offers her an intriguing proposal. With England's security and a friend's safety at risk, Mary arrives at the exotic Champian Hall, determined to uncover its dark secrets. But the knowledge that she seeks is deadly, especially when the hunter becomes the hunted.

This is the second novel in the Mary Finch series and is the sequel to The Blackstone Key. We meet Mary Finch living a very ordinary life of an heiress in the beginning of the novel. She lives in her manor, White Ladies, with two elderly spinsters who are her friends as well as her chaperones making sure Mary is a proper lady through and through. Mary, however, longs for adventures, for she has tasted them once and liked what she felt.

I see this novel as consisting of two parts, the ordinary life and the spying, so I will review it accordingly. A few parts of the novel are dedicated to the normal life of a young Georgian lady/heiress, focusing on tea parties, ordinary conversations between ladies, balls, anxieties of love and heartache. This part was really well handled. Everything Georgian seemed very genuine and all characters appearing in Mary’s “ordinary” life were very fun to read about, especially her young friend Charlotte Armitage, Captain Holland’s younger cousin (he saved Mary in the first novel and is her love interest), and Mary’s chaperones. The parts of the novel dealing with ordinary Georgian life and people felt a bit like reading Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell; highly enjoyable. I loved reading about Mary and Captain Robert “Bobs” Holland. She is a very rich heiress and he only a poor captain, so he has decided not to pursue his friendship with Mary any longer, to spare them both the possible embarrassment he might bring to the relationship because of his low status. The romantic in me loved the romantic anxiety between them, wondering whether Mary and Robert can overcome monetary issues. Robert also learns the truth about his parents which, in his eyes, sets him further apart from Mary.

The other parts of the novel are about spying, intrigues, treason – more “heavy” stuff. At first, I really had to get used to this. The first hundred pages are about normal life, basically, so a sudden inclusion of intrigues on a national scale felt a bit like an assault on me as a reader. But eventually, I got used to the jumping from spying to tea parties and card games, then back to spying and treason. At first I thought the author should only focus on one genre, either historical romance or historical mystery, but after a few chapters of both, I fell into the pace and found myself enjoying this interesting mash-up of the ordinary and the drama of spying. The whole aspect of intrigues starts when Holland’s elder cousin, Susannah Armitage, marries Colonel Arthur Crosby-Nash, making a big mistake by doing so, because it turns out that the colonel is a traitor to the country, leading an elaborate plot to crush the British navy and help the French. In those times, there were British people who were on the side of the French or were simply against the war and, consequently, stepped on the wrong side. I’d really only known the basics about cases of mutiny among the members of the navy, basically only that those things were happening, and I truly enjoyed reading about it. I have a feeling that I learned something new. The events in the novel are fictional, but they are based on facts, which the author explains at the end of the book.

Mary is sucked into the centre of intrigue again, working as a spy. She has to juggle between her duties of a proper Georgian lady and a spy working for another, very elusive spy extraordinaire, Mr Cuthbert Shy. Although I must say that the proper Georgian language reduced the amount of tension in this novel (it sounded too objective and not very dramatic), suspense was still present and I often wondered what was going to happen to Mary. I truly liked the fact that Mary was presented as an intelligent lady. She is proper, but she has a streak of fire inside her, too. She is a very enjoyable heroine.

I think there were a bit too many characters present in this novel, concerning the spying part. I really had to follow every scene carefully. I don’t mind exercising my brain, but sometimes a novel can contain too many characters. I really liked Mary, Captain Holland and the traitorous Crosby-Nash. He was well lined out as an arrogant, cold man, acting very patronisingly around his wife, for which I first began to dislike him. All of the more prominent characters are enjoyable to read about; some are a bit redundant.

Considering this is a mystery/spy novel, it was a bit slow paced, precisely because they author tried to mix normal events with intrigue in equal measure, but all in all, this was a very enjoyable read. If you like historical novels and intrigue, mysteries and crime, this is the right novel for you. This is a great sequel to The Blackstone Key and I would like to read The Mistaken Wife, the third novel in the series.

I also have to say that the cover is very beautiful. The woman is too old to be Mary, so I don’t know who she is, but her dress is wonderful, and so are the slightly enigmatic and attractive surroundings.



Blodeuedd said...

Nice review :)
It sounds..interesting, but I am with you when it comes to too many characters

Unknown said...

Hmmm... This sounds like there are just too many things working at the same time. The fact that it required all of your concentration does not inspire me to read it. I don't mind having to pay close attention but I don't like to feel like I'm reading algebra when I'm reading for pleasure. Great review though.

Laura @ A Jane of All Reads said...

Oh that cover is lovely, but it sounds a bit too busy for me. If you like the whole French/English spy thing but want it in a bit more light-hearted (and romantic) package, check out Lauren Willig's The Pink Carnation series.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Blodeuedd: Yes, a bit too many characters, that's rarely a good thing.

@Becky: I like complex reading, but for the right reasons. For a light-hearted novel, the story was a bit too much at times.

@Life After Jane: Thank you for the recommendation!

Jan von Harz said...

This does sound like a very complex novel and one that would definitely take some intense attention. Like you I get a bit baffled by too many characters. You did an excellent job reviewing this. Thanks!

Julie P said...

Very nice review. I am going to look up this series on Goodreads. Thanks for sharing, Irena!

Peninsula to Pier said...

Thanks for introducing me to this series! I have read the first two books and I'm working on the third. Love your blog!