3 out of 4 stars
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Romance, intrigue, and mystery collide in Love Letters to a Victorian Spy by Patricia Catacalos, the first book in this author’s Spy Series.
England, 1865. Lord Colin Layton attends a society event and is introduced to the lovely Lady Eliza Madison. Though the two are instantly attracted to one another, Eliza is a widow and has sworn never to marry again, and Colin has no interest in giving up his bachelor lifestyle. In addition, Colin’s status as one of Britain’s top spies (“Fox”) makes matrimony a tenuous option at best.
When Colin is tasked with tracking down a ledger that supposedly holds critical information about Britain’s spy network, he is thrust into a the role of lover with his new partner. Imagine his surprise when this new partner turns out to be none other than Lady Eliza (“Nightingale”). As if all this isn’t enough, someone is sending Colin love letters scented with Eliza’s perfume and signed “a secret admirer,” which Eliza swears are not from her. Can the two track down the Prussian spy among Britain’s ranks, figure out who is sending the mysterious letters, and work out their growing feelings for one another?
There is a lot going on in this book, and Catacalos handles it all with excellent precision. The two mysteries coupled with the romance offered plenty of tension to keep me interested. Whenever one aspect would fall into the background, another part of the plot would be there to pick up the action. It was all very well-orchestrated.
The characters were well-rounded and felt like real people. Eliza’s grandmother, Lady Thorndike, was one of my favorites. She was the quintessential meddling old lady with an attitude. Raven, another spy, was another secondary character I enjoyed. He wears a cowl and speaks in an intentionally raspy voice. I found myself wanting to know more about him from the first time he showed up on the page. Without spoiling, I wasn’t disappointed.
The setting felt real, too. The period clothing and various British estates grounded me in the era nicely. While the descriptions and characters drew me in, the writing itself distracted me at some points. There were many long and flowery sentences that had mixed effects on my reading experience. I had to reread some several times to get their meanings. For others, the wordiness worked to their advantage in a humorous way. The writing style lent itself well to the time period, but for me, less would have been more. I think many sentences could have been condensed without the tone getting lost.
This book contained a smattering of errors, mainly missing words. For the grammar mistakes and the confusing parts of the writing, I rate Love Letters to a Victorian Spy 3 out of 4 stars. As it turns out, I wound up solving most of the mysteries before Colin and Eliza. I’ve been reading an abundance of historical mysteries lately, though. So, I attribute this to my increased perception, rather than a lapse in the storytelling. The various aspects of the plot kept me engrossed, and others may not catch all the clues like I did. I never thought to lower my rating to 2 stars. I recommend this book to fans of historical romance or mystery books. There is some explicit content, so this book is only suitable for adult audiences. Similarly, if you don’t like sex of any kind in your books, stay clear of this one. The epilogue hinted at what’s coming next, and I’m excited to see where the rest of this series takes me.
Love Letters to a Victorian Spy
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