My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I only finished this hot mess because I bought it. If it had been a library book it would have long since been turned back in. I’m actually surprised this was published by Kensington. It had more of a feel of a self-pub where the author started researching her time period and went ‘OOoo this is all so fascinating, let’s put it ALL in.’ It’s more like two novellas crammed together. Maybe my disappointment is because it was sold to me as a mystery and it’s not. There’s not really any investigation of anything. There was no way to know the killer and in fact we’re nearly to 300 pages of a 400 page book before there IS for certain a murder…
The first two hundred odd pages revolve around Violet Morgan, a lady undertaker and her husband, Graham. The details about undertaking in Victorian England were good (the writing overall isn’t bad. It’s the plotting and pacing that sucked, hence the second star). Her marriage begins to fall apart as her husband and his brother, Fletcher, start getting involved with something illegal (You’d have to be blind not to realize it was gun smuggling to the South). Violet halfheartedly tries to figure out what they’re doing. That is literally the ONLY mystery in the first 260 pages. Oh we get the killer’s diary but it’s this disembodied thing at the end of chapters.
And that’s really part of the issue with this. WAY too many points of view and a bit too much Mary Suing with Violet and Queen Victoria. We have Violet’s pov, Graham’s pov, the men he’s conspiring with who just happen to be running a sting and are Americans working with the Brits at the beginning of the Civil war, like Charles Francis Adams (related to John Adams) and Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria’s etc etc. Some chapters had several scene/pov changes. This had several affects: one, you never get to know anyone particularly well. Two- a lot of the political scenes were duller than dishwater so I skipped them and it still took forever to finish this.
In the midst of this Violet finds a homeless mute girl hiding in a coffin in her shop and takes her in. Much time is devoted to Suzanne and her becoming part of the family. Violet also has her allies, Mary her dress making friend and even Prince Albert who oversaw one of her embalmings and was fascinated and naturally asked for her to be part of his funeral when he was getting sick. This is how she gets to know the Queen. Victoria keeps sending for Violet to tell her all about the funeral in a way to keep Albert with her. It rather stretches things a bit. And she even catches the eye of Samuel Harper who is aiding her husband in his illegal venture but isn’t all he seems.
Then things go sideways and Graham is out of the picture. Sam moves in in a slow romance style. Suddenly Violet notices two of the people she prepares for the grave have weird marks on them but the doctor ignores her (she’s only a woman after all). Violet seems to give it little thought but the killer had noticed Violet and takes Suzanne prompting many stupid acts on Violet’s part and the ending was just too pat and contrived and ends 30 pages before the end. Violet isn’t investigating this, not really, not until the end and it was just…disappointing. The whole book takes four years and the main action is two of those five. I don’t know if this is a one off or not (It could be a series) but it felt like it took me those four years to make it through this.
To be fair, there are interesting ideas in this. If Trent had just had Violet trying to uncover her husband’s wrong doings OR just had her trying to find the person killing off the people who become her clients, there could have been a strong story here. As it was, it was poorly paced, in many places downright boring and while Violet was interesting, she wasn’t enough to hold up all the stuff going on in this.
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