A Poisoned Season
Tasha Alexander

Wm. Morrow
April 2007
Hardcover/320 pages
ISBN: 0-06-117414-9
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". . . a hint of modern voice with an old-fashioned awareness . . ."

A Poisoned Season: Mystery, murder, romance, a missing heir to the French throne, and tea with the Queen.

Lady Emily Ashton, just out of mourning, faces a full season of parties, teas and lunches that she doesn’t want to attend. She’d rather spend the time studying Greek and reading Homer, but her very prominent social position demands she attend or face censure.

Into the social whirl comes Mr. Berry, purportedly the missing heir to the throne of France, dispensing favors and promises along with his own odious company. He has marked Emily for his future mistress. Emily’s mother wants her married and her liaison with two gentlemen, Lord Bainbridge and Colin Hargreaves, is the favorite topic of gossip. This even after two men are murdered and a thief waltzes into and out of the homes of the wealthy.

Summoned by the dead man’s widow, after clearing up the mistaken idea that she was his mistress, Emily finds herself embroiled in the midst of a mystery that points to Mr. Berry and a planned coup that will put him back on the throne. Emily must be careful because the daughter of one her friends is engaged to Berry and will be the next queen of France. Behind the question of who is stealing Marie Antoinette’s jewels and trinkets is an elusive thief, knowledgeable in Greek and in love with Emily—and he may be trying to kill her.

From deadly social ostracism to the struggle for feminine independence, Tasha Alexander offers a fly’s eye view behind the drapes and in the private drawing rooms of the most exclusive—and lowest—neighborhoods in A Poisoned Season. While there are many Victorian mysteries and even more romances available, few manage to transport the reader back into the midst of living history with such realism.

Alexander manages her casts of characters with the virtuosity of a world class choreographer, without losing hold of the central mystery or social commentary. While maintaining a Victorian awareness, A Poisoned Season uses a hint of modern voice with an old-fashioned awareness, making the tale delightfully accessible. Emily’s vulnerability in the face of social disgrace renders her likeable, allowing her to be independent without being hard and uncompromising and, as Queen Victoria remarks, “very diplomatic” when the situation warrants. Alexander’s male characters are realistically flawed and intriguing enough to interest even the most discerning female. Alexander easily gets inside the characters’ heads and hearts, making their actions not only understandable but also reasonable.

While mainly character-driven, the story does not stint on atmosphere or pacing, maintaining a satisfying balance that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next and where Emily Ashton’s next adventure will take her.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell