When A Lady Dares by Tara Kingston
Set in the late Victorian era, When A Lady Dares is the second book in a series, Her Majesty's Most Secret Service. I haven't read the first book in the series and had the feeling that there were one or two points I missed because of that, but for the most part When A Lady Dares stands quite well alone.
Sophie Deveraux would be considered quite a courageous, independent woman by today's standards - she lives alone, works as an investigative journalist AND uses her investigative skills as a spy for the Crown. In the 1890s she would have been absolutely extraordinary. To be honest, I found her a little bit too perfect to be real. She's that dreaded trope, a Mary-Sue; beautiful, brilliant and always one step ahead of everyone else.
On an undercover assignment to investigate a string of deaths attached to the work of a fake medium, she encounters Gavin Stanwyck, who I think we are supposed to believe is an Indiana Jones type of figure. I never quite bought it, however; we were constantly told how smart Gavin was but he never actually does anything particularly intelligent.
The villain of the story was introduced very late in the piece, which I found quite frustrating. While this is a historical romance, the mystery is present from the very beginning, challenging the reader to figure it out. Except that we can't, because we haven't actually been given the clues. When the villain appeared, I found myself saying "who?" because there was absolutely no build-up. (It's possible that this is someone who turned up in the first book - in which case this is an even more egregious error, because each book needs to stand alone).
Despite these criticisms, there were parts of the book that I really enjoyed. The author writes well, drawing an excellent image of 1890s London that made the story easy to visualise. People at this time did have a great curiosity about psychics and mediums, making the central themes of the story both historically appropriate and very believable; similarly Gavin's Egyptian exploits were something that would have very much interested the public, so I can well believe his picture appearing in the newspapers.
I dithered between awarding 3 and 4 stars; in the end I'll go with 4 because I did quite like it and I would read further works by the author in the future.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.