A Lady in the Smoke – Karen Odden

A train goes off the rails in 1874, and the aftermath brings together people who ordinarily would never have crossed paths. I think I expected this to be much of a muchness with other Victorian-set novels, but very quickly learned how wrong I was. From the very beginning, as the horrors of the accident are detailed, it was pretty clear that this would be blazing its own trail.

Elizabeth Fraser, fresh from her fourth disappointing London Season, has her hands full and more than full with her addicted mother, and there’s another point of difference for this book. Partly to escape the oppression of looking after the woman, partly because her assistance is genuinely needed, Elizabeth lends her aid to the doctor (Paul Wilcox) who follows the casualties placed, along with her and her mother, in a boardinghouse, and then goes with him on his other calls.

That actually annoyed me a little. Whether or not Wilcox has any idea that Elizabeth is a capital-L Lady, or just a young lower-case-L lady, it seemed like a remarkably bad idea for him to allow her to go with him to the much more desperate neighborhoods he has to enter. She gets an education that night.

And, of course,she begins to fall in love with one of the more inappropriate men to cross her path.

I liked her; I liked him. I did not much care for the fact that Paul joins the ranks of Regency, Edwardian, and Victorian novel characters to have as a sidekick a young street urchin who once tried to pick his pocket. There seem to be a lot of them out there. It would be kind of nice to think that in the 1870’s a young man’s first impulse would be to put such a boy, caught in the act, to work – but I don’t have much faith in the vision.

I’m not entirely sure the whole motivation behind the mystery – this train crash not being the first of its kind of late – is entirely logical – it seemed to me that the plot would end up costing more money than it saved or earned – but then, major conspiracies (either in theory or practice) aren’t always logical. But the investigation – in which Elizabeth only takes part in ways that actually make sense, which is refreshing – is logical, and ties together quite nicely.

Though there were some hiccups in the writing – a bit of a tendency toward Recapitis (Yes. I know. You just told me that a few pages ago), a little bit of ponderousness at times – on the whole I enjoyed the plotting and the writing. The acid test for a book in a series that is new to me, by an author new to me, is whether I’ll look for more – and in this case I believe I will.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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