Picture the cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, blanketing fog, and rampant snobbery of Victorian Boston: ``A fierce world, in which the women fought more bitterly than the men.'' The acceptable marriage is rewarded with such dubious honors as the favored place in the right sewing circle. In this context, beautiful young Valentine Thorne finds herself facing disaster after falling unwisely in love and writing impolitic letters. Now, just when she's at the very point of landing the correct, fatuous George Putnam, Colonel William D'Arcy Mann (think twirling mustaches) has his hooks deep into her. Somehow he’s gotten hold of her letters and is threatening to make them public in Town Topics, the scandal sheet he uses to blackmail proper Bostonians into paying up or seeing their names and peccadilloes served up with breakfast. Desperate, Valentine turns to her cousins Addington and Caroline Ames, Peale’s sisterbrother sleuthing team, for help in prying the letters loose. Addington goes calling on the caddish Colonel, only to find that someone has already permanently attended to him. There follows an amplitude of twisting and turning in the most arch manner of Victorian melodrama before happy tidings come to the deserving, and the wicked suffer their condign fate.
Overblown characters dished up in purpletinted prose. Peale, a pseudonym for historical novelist Nancy Zaroulis (Massachusetts, 1991, etc.), gets the period detail right, but little else.