Rummanah Aasi
 I was seeking recommendations for Victorian mysteries for my Death by Gas Light Reading Challenge and was directed by these two titles. The Woman in White is a classic and declared by many the first suspense fiction ever written. And Only to Deceive is the first book in the Lady Emily series which the Chicago Tribune heralded as "Sherlock Holmes in a skirt". Both titles caught my eye and thought I would give them a whirl.  

Description (from the back of the book): Full of secrets, mistaken identities, surprise revelations, amnesia, locked rooms and locked asylums, and an unorthodox villain, The Woman in White marked the creation of a new literary genre of suspense fiction that profoundly shaped the course of English popular writing. One of the greatest mystery thrillers ever written, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White was a phenomenal bestseller in the 1860s.

Review: The Woman in White is a mystery of the main character as its title states. The woman is known as Anne Catherick who appears as a phantom and an escapee from a well known insane asylum. Is she a madwoman? Or a victim of foul play? The mystery goes beyond Anne, though, and victim or madwoman, she becomes the key to unraveling a whole host of deceptions involving identity theft, forgery, monetary theft, and possible murder. Every motive is explored in this hefty yet entertaining book. 
 I think a lot of people have zero patience when it comes to Victorian novels. The length and slow pace are major turn offs, but you have to remember that the novel was one of the few form of entertainment at the time. Many writers such as Collins, Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote their books/short stories in an episodic fashion and were paid by the number of words written. What really surprised me about The Woman in White is that it didn't feel as if it was written in parts and hastily put together. The story flows well and it is told from multiple perspectives and it opens as if the reader is seated at a trial and the so-called crime has already been committed. As we hear testimonials from a wide range of social ranks, we are asked to identify the criminal. 
  Like many Victorian novels, the evil people are clear-cut and justice is served, but Collins also manages to his main cast of characters depth and time to full develop. While I could foretell how the book would end, Collins manages to throw me some curves and I wasn't completely bored. I would recommend this book if you would rather read a mystery set in the real Victorian period rather than a contemporary author trying to recreate a Victorian mystery.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to teens and adults who enjoy Victorian and Gothic fiction.

If you like this book try: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Description (from the book's panel): Emily agreed to wed Philip, the Viscount Ashton, primarily to escape her overbearing mother. Philip's death while on safari soon after their wedding left Emily feeling little grief, for she barely knew the dashing stranger. But her discovery of his journals nearly two years later reveals a far different man than she imagined--a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who apparently loved his new wife deeply. Emily's desire to learn more of her late husband leads her through the quiet corners of the British Museum and into a dangerous mystery involving rare stolen artifacts. To complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond matrimony into darker realms.

Review: And Only to Deceive is a charming and cozy Victorian suspense/mystery. I read the book very quickly due to its great leading, delightfully head strong heroine, Lady Emily who exudes confidence, wit, and assertiveness while retaining Victiorian sensibilities. Lady Emily is in a strange predicament. She married Philip Ashton to relief herself from her overbearing mother. Unfortunately right after her honeymoon, her husband whom she has only known less than a month dies. Lady Emily feels guilty whenever someone comes with their condolences and talks about her husband since she really has no feelings about him whatsoever. Throughout the book, Lady Emily begins to discover what kind of man her late husband was and in a weird way starts to fall in love with him until she learns that he may or may not a) be dead after all and b) be involved in the black market. Along the way we meet many colorful secondary characters such as Cecile du Lac, a Parisian of a certain age who could really care less of what society thinks of her, and it will be terribly wrong of me to not mention the irresistible Colin Hargreaves who made me smile every time he appeared on the page. The mystery is well balanced with the Victorian social mores and the sexual chemistry between Lady Emily's suitors are handled with flirtatious banter and tension. I will definitely be returning to these characters and plan to catch up on the series as there are six books already out. If you're curious at all about Victorian mysteries and looking for a place to start, I highly recommend this book. I would also recommend it to readers who enjoy an Austenesque read or a clean, fun mystery.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to teens and adults who enjoy a clean, Victorian setting and mystery.

If you like this book try: Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean, What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris, The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan , Snobbery with Violence by Marion Chesney, Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn, Agency series by Y.S. Lee

4 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    "The mystery is well balanced with the Victorian social mores and the sexual chemistry between Lady Emily's suitors are handled with flirtatious banter and tension."

    Sounds like a winner to me Rummanah! I live for banter and tension. And don't you just love stumbling across a series that has a bunch of books already out so you can just sit down and devour them all at once? That always makes me happy:)


  2. I remember loving mystery novels *cough* Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys *cough* when I was little. My tastes have totally changed over time but if I ever want to read a good mystery, I'll keep these two in mind, Rummanah.


  3. I agree Victorian books can be trying, but I like that they stand the test of time. I downloaded the Woman in White awhile ago and have been meaning to read it. And Only To Deceive sounds promising. I have been hankering for a good cozy mystery lately
    ,


  4. Oh I just read a couple of books set in Victorian times. I think I will try The Woman in White. Even though the second also sounds good... Hm...


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