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The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander, author of “The Counterfeit Heiress” seems to have one foot in the Victorian era.  She has a good grasp of the people and places in and around London and Paris during that era, and particularly the world of upper class Victorian women.

When Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband Colin attend a costume ball in London they are surprised to see another guest in a costume that looks much like Emily’s.  Some guests recognize that party-goer as the world-traveling heiress, Estella Lamar.  The next day Emily learns that the woman she saw at the masked ball has been murdered and is not Lamar at all, but a woman who for some unknown reason was impersonating her.  Who killed the impersonator?  Where is Estella Lamar?

This period mystery is set between London and Paris in 1897.  The Hargreaves are asked to solve this double mystery by one of Lamar’s old friends, Cecile du Lac.  The settings in Paris give this mystery a rather Gothic, noir feel for many of the scenes take place in and around a Paris cemetery and the catacombs under the city.  This is also a psychological suspense story because it delves deeply into the mind of a reclusive young heiress and the actions of her apparent captor.  The chapters jump between the investigation into the murder and the disappearance of Lamar, and chapters that set up the story about Lamar, her captivity and her mental state that leads to some surprising twists and turns in the plot.

The Counterfeit Heiress” is an exceptionally well-crafted and complex mystery that will be enjoyed thoroughly by fans of her Lady Emily Mystery series and many other lovers of fiction set in the late Victorian era.

Liz Nichols

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Murder in the Palais Royal by Cara Black

Among the things that is most fun about reading mysteries is that often there are very detailed descriptions of locations I particularly like or would like to visit. Such is the case with the atmospheric “Murder in the Palais Royal.” This is one of the Aimee Leduc mysteries by Cara Black.

I have been to Paris many times and can follow Leduc’s visits to different parts of the central city, but I never knew until I read this book that underneath Palais Royal and its gardens is a honeycomb of secret passageways. These secret escape routes figure into the solution of who murdered one of the people Aimee is trying to help, the girl friend of a man she helped put away for a hate crime years before.

In this mystery Aimee is trying to undo what appears to be a false conviction of Nicolas Evry and to discover who put Nicolas up to taking the fall for the burning of a synagogue and the deaths of an elderly Jewish couple. It gets far more complex than that. Aimee is accused of trying to gun down her partner, Rene, and she must prove that she is being framed. Are these three incidents related– what happens to Evry, his girlfriend and Rene? At the same time, she is trying to stay in contact with an investigator in New York City who may have tracked down the whereabouts of her kid brother, who left Paris with her mother, an accused spy, many years earlier.

At first it is hard to keep track of all the threads of this story, but it soon comes together into a coherent and ingenious plot. Francophiles will love this book, if just to soak in the Parisian atmosphere. Mystery lovers will love the constant action, the danger around every dark and dank corner, and the descriptions of Paris the way a resident would know it.

Liz Nichols

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