3 out of 5 stars
This is book 4 of the Lady Emily series
Colin and Emily finally tied the knot! About freaking time. But if you think that means they won’t find dead bodies while on their honeymoon, you clearly haven’t read enough lady detective novels! Protip: do not invite these bitches to your house. They will find bodies.
This sends them off to, and here I must use the word, the “exotic” Ottoman Empire. It says it right in the blurb. Yeah. In her defense, it’s not like the author writes the blurb. So I’m going to address the problem that this genre has, in that it is lily white as mayonnaise. They are usually straight white people doing straight white people things. And when they do go somewhere not England or France it’s usually problematic AF. So I kinda love it that one of the first Turks they meet looks down his nose at them and gives them crap for the ignorance about his culture and society, of which the English are very short sighted. Now, I’m white mayonnaise, too, so it’s not for me to say how well she portrayed Turkey. I think the characters, a mix of good, bad and neutral, were all fully fleshed. There is one scowling, angry Turkish man that someone might point out as a stereotype, but… he was that way for a reason. Or so it seemed to me. This is always such a slippery slope. But it felt very well researched and I learned a lot about the Ottoman Empire, and even went online to look into things and look at some of the historical figures and places.
As soon as they get there, they are thrown into contact with the Sultan, and a body shows up. Like I said. Don’t invite these women to your house. A member of his harem is found strangled in the courtyard. And wouldn’t you know… in the way of ridiculous lady detective novel, the murdered woman is the long lost daughter of a man they just met. Sir Richard St. Clare works in the embassy. They met him on the train and he tells them how he lost his family to a raiding party. Because of course, that is the first thing people did in Victorian times, was dump the deepest, darkest most troubling parts of their lives on total strangers that they just met. I don’t know if you can tell, but that is sarcasm. I would also say something sarcastic about why on earth these British people start investigating the murder… I guess it was a favor to the Sultan. And of course, without Brits poking their noses into places they don’t belong we wouldn’t have a lot of novels. Or as much genocide. However, again, I appreciated the author having her main character address her own ignorance in regards to both the culture and the culture clash. The following quote is about the Sultan.
“… Adbul Hamit was gracious, exceedingly polite, cultured, Western, and enlightened when it came to education, particularly for women. He loved music, wrote poetry, and had even penned an opera of his own. How did one reconcile all that with his multiple wives and concubines and slaves and mutilated guards? … And although I did not doubt my ability to solve the murders, I wondered what my ignorance and naïveté led me to overlook. It was essential that I recognize the limitations I carried with me.”
I personally know nothing about harems. As a matter of fact, all of my opinions were probably shared by Lady Emily. She quickly learns they aren’t what she thought they were. The women were educated, if they wanted to be. Not all of them were intimate with the Sultan and in a lot of ways they had more freedom than English women. Also many wanted to be in the Harem and wanted to be concubines of the Sultan. That’s not to undermine what the other women that were given as “gifts” or in the case of one character, who was Christian and saw her life as sinful and unbearable, had no recourse and there are serious human rights issues, let alone women’s rights issues. But… as someone who knows nothing I felt like I learned a lot.
Lady Emily has women’s rights issues of her own. She is being allowed to work with her husband…but there is still that whole “as long as you act like a lady and don’t bring shame upon the monarchy” bullshit. Yeah. But, she can go into the harem, where Colin can’t! And of course, she is moved by the plight of the Christian Roxelana, a harem member who wants to get away. She begs Emily to help her escape, something that will endanger herself, Colin, and probably British relations with the Ottoman Empire.
So what is going on? Lots of politics. The Sultan’s brother, who went a little nuts, is still alive, and people fear that his cronies and former government are planning something to put him back in power as a puppet. There is drama between the Sultan’s mother and stepmother as to who will run the harem. There is also a dress found in the dead girl’s rooms that is sewn full of jewels. There is also the matter of their friend Sir Richard. He is having some kind of mental lapses where he keeps losing papers, and it’s affecting his job at the embassy. His son is also up to shenanigans, seemingly his life is being threatened constantly. There are also rumors that someone inside the harem has a lover, or is planning an escape.
Like the other books, this one was full of too many characters, coincidences, and was overly convoluted. A lot of it was predictable. It did make me think about what I read, as always, teach me a lot more about Turkey’s history, British colonialism, and entertained me for a couple days. I don’t hate these books but I don’t know if or when I will read the rest. They are well written and funny, despite their flaws. There is, of course, some real excitement, drama and derring do. Also some sadness.
Basically, if you like a lady detective, this might be for you.