During England’s Regency period, a fallen woman becomes a private inquiry agent.
Sarah Tolerance, whose dalliance with a married man in Belgium sullied her reputation forever, brings noteworthy skills to the position of 1810 London’s only p.i. She’s deft at swordplay, dead-on with a pistol, and privy to the tawdrier gossip from her aunt, a brothel madam, and her close friend, Sir Walter Mandrif, magistrate of Bow Street. When Mr. Colcannon asks her to solve the murder of his brother-in-law, Chevalier Etienne d’Aubigny, bludgeoned to death in his bed, she quizzes his household staff, who swear that the house was locked up tight from 11:00 that night till the next morning, then questions the little widow, sorely abused by the deceased. Her travels take her from a brothel specializing in flagellation the Chevalier often visited to the literary salon of Camille Touvois, where political alliances form and reform, the Duke of Cumberland’s War Support Bill is frequently discussed, and the Duke himself makes regular appearances. The Chevalier’s home, stripped of most of its paintings, silver, and fine furnishings, bespeaks an owner in financial straits. Was his murder a cruel way of settling his debts? Was it a whore’s revenge? A wife’s? Or was there a political slant to it, something involving France’s world position?
Robins (Point of Honour, not reviewed) provides good period detail but flimsy character development and only a half-hearted attempt at a locked-room puzzle.