India Black & The Gentleman Thief (Madame Of Espionage #4)
Carol K. Carr
Berkeley Prime Crime (Penguin Group)
Read from my local library
India Black is just preparing to question the enigmatic spy French on what he has been withholding from her about her family when they are interrupted by a messenger who delivers a seemingly innocent shipping bill for her to safekeep for a Colonel Francis Mayhew. India doesn’t run a post office so she’s mildly irritated by the whole thing but that turns to anger when, shortly afterwards, three thugs turn up, steal the envelope and rough up both India and French. Now it’s personal and India is keen to track down the thugs and the meaning of what this shipping bill is all about so she can get some payback for her split lip. It is part of her moneymaker after all.
India and French do some investigating and after discovering that Colonel Mayhew has been viciously murdered in his bedroom they begin to understand that there’s a lot more going on here than just the shipping notice would suggest and the villains are willing to go to extreme lengths to keep things quiet. They visit the London docks to find the ship in question and attempt to discover what the cargo really is because surely it is not what is listed on the bill. There India sees a face from her past – the gentleman thief and her former lover. He attempted to set India up long ago but she managed to turn the tables on him and go on to become the successful proprietor of Lotus House that she is today. She hadn’t seen the thief again – until now. Her past with him isn’t something she feels she can disclose to French even though it’s come out recently that the mysterious agent has some secrets of his own.
As well as this new investigation, India also needs to keep badgering French to give up what he knows about her family. Unbeknownst to her, she’s about to get the answers she seeks but it’s going to bring chaos and some very unexpected news that will disrupt her life.
This series is like a breath of fresh air for me. Set in Victorian times, India Black is a (former) whore and brothel owner who, by accident, fell into a position of assisting the Prime Ministers office on several matters of security. She mostly works with French, an agent of the Crown and military man. Their relationship has evolved with each book but they still face many challenges: firstly, French isn’t quite as unattached as he seemed in their early acquaintance and secondly, he’s unashamedly a well bred gentleman who struggles with the growing feelings he has for India versus his commitments and his honour. Plus he’s not always comfortable with India’s former profession. Although she refers to herself as a whore, India is basically retired and hasn’t taken customers in some time – she prefers running the show and counting the coins. She keeps her girls well fed and the customers well supplied with alcohol and good cigars. The two of them make for an interesting pairing because of the two, French is more likely to declare himself (although it generally has the agonised tone of the conflicted) whereas India attempts to keep her distance from him emotionally. There’s no denying that she’d like to get him into bed and she doesn’t seem to care about anything else he may have going on in his life but India has a very vested interest in keeping her heart protected. In contrast, French attempts to avoid anything at all physical. It’s worked well for the last three books but I do believe that it’s probably time to step things up a gear and explore a little more what is going on between them, French’s complications aside. There’s no denying the two of them were on rather uneven footing, although developments in this novel seem to rectify that in some ways. The way in which this novel sets up their next adventure makes it look as though it will be very difficult for things not to escalate! So I’m looking forward to that. It’s time!
I enjoyed the plot about the shipping bill and what was really going on and it was interesting to have someone from India’s past crop up. I haven’t read the novella which details her adventure with the gentleman thief – previously none of the books were available for my region although I’ve noticed that since these books are to be published in England, I can now purchase kindle versions of the first two novels and the two novellas. I did like that the inclusion of the gentleman thief had a bit of an effect on French, especially when he realised that India was protecting him. I’m glad India also found out more about her past in this book although to be honest it doesn’t so much give her peace of mind as it does raise an awful lot of issues and problems for her! The inclusion of the Dowager Marchioness of Tullibardine (and her entourage) got quite wearying to be honest, perhaps because it was difficult to see India so helpless against the onslaught. She’s such a strong character who takes no crap from anyone, watching her relegated to the couch in her study while the Dowager Marchioness alienated customers and sneezed snuff everywhere became a bit irritating. India is at her best when she’s sharp and snappy and this weakness didn’t particularly suit her.
Book #113 of 2014