A young widow immerses herself in antiquity and uncovers a scandal in Alexander’s Victorian-era suspense debut.
Emily married Philip, a wealthy viscount, mainly to escape her overbearing mother’s constant hectoring. Her new husband has two passions: acquiring ancient Greek vases and statuary, and big-game hunting. Shortly after their marriage, Philip leaves Emily in their London townhouse and embarks on an extended African safari. His fellow hunters, impoverished aristocrats Andrew and Arthur Palmer and best friend Colin Hargreaves, report that he died of a mysterious fever at camp. Widowed after only six months of marriage to a man she hardly knew, Emily is relieved and secretly exhilarated by her inherited fortune and the independence it offers. But she soon sees signs that Philip had had things to hide. A man with a scarred face stalks her while she is inspecting the antiquities her husband donated to the British Museum. Philip’s desk and her Paris hotel room are ransacked. Colin, to whom she is attracted, is frustratingly unforthcoming about Philip’s business dealings—and his own. Andrew, who at first charms Emily with his debonair cynicism about society, and his acceptance of her rebellions (drinking port instead of sherry, studying ancient Greek), turns hostile when she rejects his proposal. At the Louvre, she befriends Attewater, an expert forger who specializes in copying classical artifacts on commission. However, he will not identify his well-heeled patrons. Emily learns from this unsavory acquaintance that Philip’s British Museum gifts are actually copies and the originals are stockpiled at his country estate. Then word comes through that Philip may actually be alive. Emily, who has fallen in love with her husband after reading his journal (sections of it introduce each chapter), prepares to go on safari to search for him. Following a long buildup, the payoff is rather too predictable, and the opulence insulating Emily insures that she’s never truly in jeopardy.