In Alexander’s sixth Lady Emily mystery, our port-tippling heroine tracks a villain who’s threatening London’s best families with scandal—and worse.
Lady Emily, now married to dashing Colin Hargreaves (who occasionally acts as an undercover agent in service to Queen Victoria), is still courting social opprobrium with her slightly outré predilections, such as consuming unladylike after-dinner drinks, studying Latin and Greek and advocating women’s suffrage. However, soon more pressing challenges loom: Someone is defacing the facades of fashionable London townhouses with red paint, only, shortly thereafter, to disclose the deepest, darkest secrets of their occupants. Emily’s best friend Ivy, fearing exposure of some unnamed wrongdoing, confides only in her diary. Tied in, somehow, with the paint-spattering, fatalities mount. A prosperous businessman, Mr. Dillman, is found burnt to death in the warehouse he owns, and shortly thereafter his fiancée, Cordelia, is kidnapped and murdered. The miscreants taunt Scotland Yard with their misdeeds and with missives sealed with distinctive yellow wax. Colin, who has accepted Emily’s assistance with his investigations in the past, won’t tell her everything he knows of the ongoing manhunt, thus prompting her to embark on her own sleuthing in the company of Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, a recurring character who provides welcome comic relief from all the polite posturing and faux-Victorian parlance. Jeremy, a self-described rakish cad, is actually upset that the red paint vandals find him unworthy of smearing. When Lady Glover, a flamboyant former music-hall star never really accepted by Society, is kidnapped, the domestic tranquility of several highborn husbands hangs in the balance. Suspects proliferate at a dizzying rate, among them a politician who backs votes for women, his West Indian best friend, a shrewish London hostess who knows where all the bodies are buried and, well, half of the West End.
Although, we can be assured, all will end with port and cigars in Emily’s library, this installment is encumbered by an impossibly convoluted plot and a lorry-load of scarlet herrings.