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by Tasha Alexander
Minotaur, January 2020
307 pages
ISBN: 1250164737

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Alternating between Pompeii in 79 AD and an archaeological dig of the same city's ruins in 1902, Tasha Alexander creates twin storylines of strong, talented women in two societies where they must struggle to gain the recognition they deserve while coping with deceit, betrayal, and murder.

IN THE SHADOW OF VESUVIUS stars Alexander's Lady Emily, following her this time to Italy where she and her husband Colin are visiting Pompeii. Shortly after their arrival, they discover that one of the plaster casts of the victims of the volcanic eruption is, in fact, a contemporary reporter. The local police quickly dismiss the case, writing it off as the act of a local crime syndicate, so Emily and Colin begin their own investigation, uncovering intrigue, lies, and danger at every turn and leading, ultimately, to Emily's own brush with death. In addition to coping with the investigation and its dangers, Emily also has to come to terms with the sudden appearance of Colin's daughter—a daughter he knew nothing about until she appears on the terrace of the villa where they're staying and makes her claim. Maneuvering through society's expectations and confronting those expectations as well as the upheaval in her own family and finding a murderer keep Emily on her toes and the plot moving quickly.

Balanced against Emily's story is that of Kassandra, a young Greek woman who struggles with her own set of deceptions and betrayals as she writes poetry, falls in love, and transitions from being a slave to a freedwoman in Pompeii in the months before Vesuvius erupts.

Kassandra's story spirals to a climax just as Emily's does, and in the end, the tales come together nicely and provide a solution for Emily just when she needs it most. Both plots are intriguing enough to keep the reader interested in following each to its inevitable conclusion, and the characters in both are interesting, as well, particularly the main ones. But what is most compelling about both is the historical setting. Alexander has done meticulous research and makes both ancient Pompeii and the more recent one vividly real and fun to visit. In that context, she also makes a strong point about the rights of women (or lack thereof) through portrayed actions and reactions and by casting brave, intelligent women as the main players in the dramas. But while women's rights may often be top-of-mind for both Emily and Kassandra, that, along with the various relationships (romantic and otherwise) are a subtext to the overarching historical murder mystery, simply adding layers of interest to a well-plotted page-turner of a novel filled with likeable characters and plenty of twists and turns.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, January 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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