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THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS
by Tasha Alexander
Minotaur Books, October 2014
292 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250024692


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lady Emily, Colin Hargreaves, and Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge, dress for Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire's costume ball to which 700 members of London Society are invited. The theme is historical and mythical figures, and Lady Emily looks dashing as Artemis, goddess of the hunt. At the ball, she is approached by a man dressed in Greek robes, who quotes Homer to her. Clearly it is a passcode, and the Greek, disappointed in her performance, stalks off. Later, Emily's dear friend from France, Cécile du Lac (Marie Antoinette avec le tête) reveals that the famed traveler, Estella Lamar, is rumored to be in attendance. They find and approach Estella, but unfortunately, it's not her.

The next day, they find the imposter, deceased and wearing a costume similar to Emily's. The friends, smelling a rat, begin a search for Estella that caries them from great houses in Paris, to scummy back roads, to the famed Père-Lachaise cemetery, where so many of the -inhabitants - need only one name.

Tantalizing hints of the mystery's solution are dangled before us: three houses owned by Estella have been staffed by servants, but unvisited by their travelling mistress, for twenty years. As the four friends seek Estella's whereabouts (and also the identity of he who murdered her doppelganger), they find that Estella kept a disturbingly large number of children's dolls, even in her adulthood. In addition, names associated with Estella's whereabouts and disappearance are found to have been taken from Charles Dickens's novels.

On the journey, we meet an uncooperative and outraged concierge, a sleazy salesman of patent medicines, and the mysterious Mr. Magwich (Great Expectations), who seems to be everywhere and nowhere. We tour the famous sites of Paris and descend into the Paris catacombs. Lady Emily and Colin, whose biting humor and literary name-dropping are a bit too modern to believe, are also very modern in the freedom they accord to one another as they come ever closer to their dangerous quarry.

Those that enjoy Parisian tourist destination name-dropping, literary allusions, and witty repartee may like Alexander's latest novel. Her principal characters, living during le décadence, nonetheless have a bit too 21st-century an outlook to come across firmly as flesh-and-blood.

§ Cathy Downs, Professor of English teaches American literature at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and appreciates the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, October 2014

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