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by David Roberts
Soho Constable, February 2009
288 pages
ISBN: 1569475393

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Like the decade in which it is set, this series grows increasingly dark. What began as a relatively light-hearted tribute to the manor house mystery of the 30s, if one with a good-sized helping of the social history of the period, has developed into a full-blown journey through the five years preceding the outbreak of the Second World War, with particular attention paid to the politics of both left and right.

In this, the ninth in the series, that improbable if romantic pair, Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne, are about to marry, despite Verity's continuing doubts about submitting to the demands of propriety. But before they can get to the altar (or, more correctly, the Registry Office), they are once more plunged into a series of dangers that will threaten their relationship, Verity's political commitments, and ultimately her life.

But hers is not the only life at risk. Someone (or more than one someone) is gunning for Winston Churchill, and somebody else may be after Joseph Kennedy, father of Joe and Jack, and Ambassador to the Court of St James's. Both Lord Edward and Verity are invited (separately) to find out what they can and so Edward goes to Chartwell and the pair to Cliveden, where the Kennedys are guests. Since David Roberts sticks closely to historical fact, it will not come as a surprise to learn that all of the great and good survive, but some fictional others are less fortunate.

When I first started reading this series, I enjoyed the combination of entertaining, if fairly light-weight, mystery with sound historical scholarship. But as the series progressed through its "low, dishonest decade," inching ever closer to September 1, 1939, Roberts shifts the balance more and more in favour of the inclusion of ever larger wads of historical fact, until at this point no great home can be visited without a potted history of who built it, when, and out of what. This approach, while informative, does tend to slow down the action rather markedly. (And it does encourage one to try to catch Roberts out in errors, which is petty, but oddly satisfying when successful.)

Roberts also strikes me as somewhat less even-handed than in the first entries in the series. Though his appraisals of historical figures like Nancy Astor and Harold Laski are sharp and witty, they are not unkind, but he really cannot abide Joseph Kennedy and his son John F. (here twenty-two and even more sexually exploitive than his dad). Joe, the elder son who died in the war, gets off more lightly.

Readers new to the Lord Edward/Verity Browne series would do well to start with an earlier book. If they do, they will find a satisfying combination of romantic thriller, social history, and political comment. If they take this course, they will certainly want to follow the series wherever Roberts wants to take it.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, February 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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