And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander, the first book in the Lady Emily Asher series is a Victorian mystery set in Europe. What I like about Victorian mysteries is that the main character has to figure out the culprit without the help of modern technology. I love modern mysteries too but sometimes they rely too heavily on science and finding a stray hair. I wasn’t much of a fan of this book though. It wasn’t awful but I don’t think there was a single character I didn’t get annoyed with at some point.
The main character Lady Emily Ashton, only marries to escape her overbearing mother, who comes off as what someone thinks an overbearing mother sounds like. Her mother is completely unbelievable in all scenes she appears, if you’ve even been to a play where the supporting character is completely over playing their part that’s Emily’s mother.
Emily has only been married a few months when her husband, Peter, goes on safari and dies. In the beginning Emily is only mourning Peter out of social obligation. Feeling like she never got to know him, she starts to read his diary. After finding out that he loved ancient Greece, she starts learning all she can about it. If you don’t want to read excerpts from the Iliad and repeatedly read about the differences between Achilles and Hector; run away as fast as you can. Emily spends most of the novel floundering around and touring museums, talking with different people about the same pieces of art. Its swell, and by swell I mean monotonous and dry.
There is also a bit of a love knot; it’s not a triangle or a square so I’m just calling it a knot. Minor spoiler, while reading Peters journal, Emily falls head over heels with him because why not? As the book progresses she does realize that she is actually in love with the idea of him and the life they could have had. Emily realizing her love for Peter is idealized is one of the few things done right in the book. Other characters express interest in her but halfway through the book she mourns she has lost by Peter dying and spends some time crying. One of Emily’s friends specifically tells her not to fall in love with her dead husband but does she listen? Nope, she just keeps digging deeper into his life and getting to know him.
A lot of the mystery could have been cut out if people didn’t jump to conclusions and/or hide in the shadows “to protect Emily.” I wanted Emily to take out an ad telling people she was happy being a widow and had no intention of marrying again; it would have saved me from reading it over and over. The mystery unfolds mostly in the background; we spend far more time reading about how Emily is learning Greek and explaining she doesn’t want to remarry.
Alexander wrote in the authors notes that the concept of the book started with a rich widow. I hate characters that were created just to give the main character something to overcome and that’s all Peter is. We never really get to know him because Emily never really knows him. In between each chapter is an excerpt from Peter’s journal and that’s all the insight we ever really get. People tell Emily that he was wonderful, but he just seemed creepy. Peter suffered from the obnoxious trait, where since Emily wasn’t that interested in him, he needed her. There were many weird comparisons with Emily being prey and Peter being the hunter. Peter was a hunter, that’s what he was off doing when he died but Emily is person not an elephant.
This book had so much potential and this story could have been great and wonderful but Alexander seems to have bitten off more than she can chew. The return to the novels mystery always felt jarring and forced, Emily’s journey of self-discovery could have been the only plot line. Sometimes the first novel in a series is brilliant and causes you to rush out to get the next one; this one does not have that kind of effect. I did put the next one on reserve at my local library but I’m having a hard time convincing myself to pick it up.
- no known triggers
Does it pass the Bechdel test?