Mary Finch, a schoolteacher, receives a letter from her uncle, inviting her to visit him. On her way there, she encounters a Mr. Tracey, injured from a carriage accident, lying in a ditch at the side of the road. In his possession is a watch belonging to Mary’s uncle. Her arrival at her uncle’s house leads to a mystery and adventure involving everything from smugglers to European politics. Along the way, Mary is assisted by Captain Holland, but she can’t help finding herself attracted to Mr. Paul Deprez, a handsome gentleman from the West Indies.
The author is a scholar of late-18th and early-19th century political history, and she does a wonderful job of explaining the politics of the period, without dumbing things down. The coded messages were an added plus to this well-crafted book. Where the author is less knowledgeable is in the area of social history; there were certain things that a few of the characters did that made me think, “that would never have happened back then” (I read quite a lot of history and historical fiction). The characters in and of themselves are well-drawn, though I thought the elderly Mrs. Tipton was a bit of a caricature (she’s an elderly, eccentric termagent with a tongue sharper than a knife).
Other than that, this is an entertaining, lighthearted, and fun read. The author doesn’t turn 1795 England into a trip to Disneyworld the way that Lauren Willig does in her Secret History of the Pink Carnation series. I’m looking forward to reading further books in Melikan’s series. I’d love to find out what happens next.
Also reviewed by: Becky's Book Reviews