Carr, Carol K - 'India Black'
This very exciting first novel by this new American author, a former attorney and corporate executive, is one of the best historical mysteries that I've read for some time. It starts on a Sunday in the winter of 1876, when the lady of the title, who is the Madam of a brothel, named "The Lotus House" - appealing to the most discerning and wealthy of clients - is shocked to learn that one of her most regular customers is dead. The gentleman in question died whilst with Arabella his regular harlot. India decided that she would arrange to get the body rolled up in a carpet and dumped somewhere after dark. Unfortunately, she later learnt that the deceased customer, whom she knew as "Bowser" was in reality the important civil servant Sir Archibald Latham, working at the Foreign Office, and with him he had a briefcase full of top secret documents concerning troop numbers and locations, which the Russians were very keen to get hold of.
In the confusion of getting rid of the deceased's body - India planned to hide the body, with the help of a street urchin named Vincent - those papers disappeared. It was only when she and Vincent were discovered by 'French', a mysterious man who worked for the government, that she learned about those documents. With a little pressure from French, and some of the most important men in the government, India agreed to take on the difficult task of recovering those papers. Britain's relationship with the Russians and the Ottoman Empire could depend on it.
One thing leads to another and we have some marvellously exciting adventures with India going to the Russian Embassy and then to Claridge's Hotel and then an exciting chase from London to the coast and then upon a boat during a snowstorm in the English Channel.
The author has a truly remarkable talent for describing a scene with such wonderful historical accuracy. She has obviously done extensive research and I felt really transported during the time I was reading this superb book, to Victorian London and England with some of the exact cockney slang and British speech patterns, which is quite amazing coming from an author who lives in the Missouri Ozarks. A number of Americans have tried in the past to write mysteries with a genuinely English atmosphere but few have succeeded. The only clue that I noticed was her reference to "side-walks" rather than pavements in the first few pages and I don't think us British would use the word "whore" so much as Americans would. Her book reminded me of other historical mysteries that I've read by Wendy Burdess and Deanna Raybourn but I believe that INDIA BLACK is superior. It had a refreshing charm and easy readability which made it most enjoyable and it was so truly evocative of what one imagines Victorian England to be like. I look forward to the opportunity to reading more mysteries of this high quality from this most impressive new author.
Terry Halligan, England
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