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by Caro Peacock
Avon, March 2008
352 pages
ISBN: 0061445894

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Liberty Lane, a heroine whose name is as intriguing as the author's own, a young Englishwoman, goes to meet her father in Calais in1837. Tired of boarding with her stuffy aunt, Liberty is anxious to reunite with her father and begin a new chapter in their lives. She has, however, an overwhelming problem. Liberty's father is dead, killed in a duel (or so say the French authorities).

Left to fend for herself, both in France and England, with no money or allies, Liberty vows in her father's memory that she will uncover the truth. She knew him as a peaceful man, who had early on quashed her notion that duels are a romantic sport. Knowing that he would never participate himself, Liberty begins her investigation, which will soon threaten both her own safety and land her in the midst of a network of spies. Unsure of whom to trust, Liberty Lane must act on her own instincts and soon finds herself embroiled in a plot filled with missteps at every turn.

Convinced to take on the role of governess at Mandeville Hall, where she will act as a spy for a man she hopes can provide answers about her father's death, Liberty discovers that something sinister is afoot. Moreover, the dangerous atmosphere at the great house is linked to a plot against the new queen, Victoria, who is but a few years younger than Liberty herself.

A FOREIGN AFFAIR (published originally in the UK as DEATH AT DAWN) is presented as a first novel by its author, Caro Peacock. Hardly a debut, it is in fact the first novel in a new series by Gillian Linscott, who has evidently abandoned her long and highly regarded series starring Nell Bray, the prickly, independent suffragette. Liberty is also a plucky heroine, but the shift to the (very) early Victorian period also signals a softening of some of the feminism of the previous series.

All the same, Peacock/Linscott is a very accomplished writer. What really defines the novel's value is her ability to put the reader into Liberty's shoes, to enable readers to experience the confusion and sorrow from Liberty's vantage point. Until Liberty can understand just how her father died and why, her life is not her own.

Peacock also imbues her story with the confusion her heroine must feel. Just who can Liberty Lane trust? If she is to be used as a spy to uncover her father's murderer, so be it. At every step, the reader empathizes, able to imagine perfectly this other world, at one minute secure, at the next, fraught with danger. Readers of A FOREIGN AFFAIR are richly rewarded with a likeable heroine who is sure to be followed on to her next adventure in this literary series.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, July 2008

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