Monday, March 28, 2016

A Lady in the Smoke- Karen Odden

A Lady in the Smoke-Karen Odden
Alibi- Random House
Release Date: March 29, 2016

Synopsis: Karen Odden’s enthralling debut historical mystery transports readers to Victorian England, where a terrifying railway disaster plunges a headstrong young noblewoman into a conspiracy that reaches to the highest corridors of power.  Following a humiliating fourth Season in London, Lady Elizabeth Fraser is on her way back to her ancestral country estate when her train careens off the rails and bursts into flames. Though she is injured, she manages to drag herself and her unconscious mother out of the wreckage, and amid the chaos that ensues, a brilliant young railway surgeon saves her mother’s life. Elizabeth feels an immediate connection with Paul Wilcox—though society would never deem a medical man eligible for the daughter of an earl.  After Paul reveals that the train wreck was no accident, and the inspector who tried to prevent it dies under mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth undertakes a dangerous investigation of her own that leads back to her family’s buried secrets. The more she learns, the more she must risk. Not only are her dowry and her reputation at stake; Paul’s very life hangs in the balance when he is arrested for manslaughter. As the trial draws near, and Parliament prepares for a vote that will change the course of the nation, Elizabeth uncovers a conspiracy that has been years in the making. But time is running out for her to see justice done.

A Lady in the Smoke is one of those rare debut books that hits every right note.  Odden's writing is smooth and descriptive, bringing the reader into a world of smoke and light, people and machines in a perfect blend of mystery, romance, and family. Wonderful descriptions of daily life make the reader feel as if they are on the street, or in the train, with the characters.  A Lady in the Smoke brilliantly weaves together what start off seeming like very separate story threads.  Railway accidents, strange land acquisitions, the tragedies of friends, and family secrets come together in ways you wouldn't have expected. 

All of Odden's characters are fully formed, three dimensional people with layered emotions, motives, and relationships.  Elizabeth Fraser is a strong and determined woman, just beginning to discover how to take control of her own life in spite of her family and society.  She becomes drawn into the railway conspiracy because of her compassionate nature and sense of justice- although ironically the only argument that gains her entry into the case is a purely financial one.  Even relatively minor characters like Anne and Phillip Reynolds are alive with emotions that wring your heart as you follow their struggles between doing what is right and what is comfortable.   

Fans of C. S. Harris and Amanda Quick will applaud this talented new author as she joins the ranks of truly excellent historical mystery writers.  A Lady in the Smoke is an absolute must read, and hopefully only the first of many excellent books in debut author Karen Odden's future.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

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