WARNING! CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR A FATAL WALTZ, THE THIRD LADY EMILY MYSTERY!
Lady Emily Hargreaves, formerly Ashton, is on her honeymoon with her beloved husband, Colin. Having earned the disappointment of both Lady Emily's formidable mother and Queen Victoria herself after eloping to Greece to get married rather than have a lavish society wedding in the Queen's own chapel, the couple are enjoying a trip on the Orient Express when a British diplomat keels over at their dining table. The Hargreaves help him, and it turns out that he simply misjudged the dose of his sleeping medication, but he is nonetheless very grateful, and promises to help them when they arrive in Constantinople.
An avid study of ancient history and Greek, as well as an amateur sleuth who has solved two murders, including that of her first husband, the Viscount Ashton, Lady Emily wants to see Troy and Constantinople and other famous landmarks. Her husband, a trusted Intelligence Agent for the Crown, wants nothing more than to keep his wife out of danger and pamper her as much as possible. This proves difficult when on one of their first evenings in Constantinople, a harem girl is found murdered, and she is none other than the missing daughter of the diplomat the Hargreaves befriended on the train, stolen from her family by bandits when she was only three years old. The father, who has spent most of his life since her disappearance searching for her, is devastated.
As the girl is half-English, Colin Hargreaves is granted permission to investigate the murder. But as most of the suspect live within the Sultan's harem, Colin has no choice but to let Emily take part in the investigation. She can go where he cannot, and question those he will not be allowed access to. In the course of the investigation, Emily discovers that her preconceptions about life in the Ottoman empire are not at all what she was led to believe, but that there is still a lot of intrigue, and more than one person had a motive to kill the young woman. What at first appears to be sea-sickness may also turn out to be a natural result of her recent matrimony, but remembering her aunt's death during childbirth, and reading the letters from her best friend who is currently experiencing a very difficult pregnancy, Emily is not at all certain she is ready to become a mother. That is, of course, if she survives to unveil the killer.
The Lady Emily Asthon novels may seem very similar to Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Gray series, and on the surface, there share many things in common. Both are mystery novels, set in Victorian times, featuring daughters of Earls, who are both widowed in the first novel of the series. Both widows solve the murders of their husbands, and go on to find love with men who they share their investigations with. Yet the tone and style of the books are very different, and having read the fourth installments of both series back to back, I am struck by the difference between them as well. Colin and Emily do not have the stormy and tempestuous relationship that Julia and Brisbane have, theirs is a much more tranquil and in some ways more romantic partnership. While in Raybourn's books, Brisbane was reluctant to enter into a romantic relationship with Julia because of their difference in social status and wealth, it is Colin who pursues Emily for two novels before she finally accepts and becomes his wife.
Still, fans of one author will undoubtedly enjoy the books of the other. Any fan of historical mystery could do much worse than pick up the books of either Tasha Alexander or Deanna Raybourn, all four books in each of the authors' series have been excellent. Tasha Alexander's fifth Lady Emily novel is out in hardback in about a week, and I am not sure I can wait until it is released in paperback to buy it.