This book is part of a series, but I wasn’t aware of that when I picked it up at the library. The premise sounded intriguing, a blend of romance and mystery, set in Vienna, which I thought would be a nice change from the usual London scene. As per a publisher’s blurb about the book: A murdered Russian princess creates a diplomatic imbroglio in this magnificent mystery set in the midst of the glittering palaces and ballrooms of the Congress of Vienna. As the heads of state and foreign ministers of Russia, England, Austria, and France gather in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 to determine the new map of Europe, diplomatic wife Suzanne Rannoch is summoned to the quarters of the beautiful Tatiana Kirsanova. There she discovers her own husband, Malcolm, beside Tatiana’s bloody corpse, claiming to have found her only moments before. Despite doubts about her husband’s story, Suzanne helps him to untangle the murdered woman’s history—a dangerous mix of love affairs and espionage—in the process uncovering the secrets of her uneasy union with Malcolm. With an impeccably researched setting and a cast of historical characters ranging from French diplomatic mastermind Talleyrand to a youthful Franz Schubert is a must read.
So there are a lot of characters in this book – all manner of royalty from different countries, along with their wives and mistresses, and foreign dignitaries and spies. Suzanne and Malcolm are the main couple, and they have been married for a short time and have a young son, Colin. However, their marriage is rather unusual. Malcolm married her in Spain, after rescuing her from a bad situation, thinking he could offer her the protection of his name and position. It’s not a love match, but they do share a passion for each other, and they are well matched in wits and subterfuge. There are still a lot of secrets about Malcolm that Suzanne doesn’t know, and is careful not to ask about. Still, when she finds him beside the dead Princess Tatiana, he seems very upset and she suspects he was intimately involved with the other woman. After all, Tatiana was known for having many lovers ranging from Tsar Alexander of Russia to the French foreign minister, and several others at the same time.
Tatiana’s death sends ripples of concern throughout the group gathered in Vienna. It becomes clear that she was blackmailing several people, and holding letters that would create scandal if exposed. Any one of a number of these people could be the murderer. There are a few other women involved with the same men who slept with Tatiana who had cause to wish her dead as well. It was all rather convoluted and incestuous.
Malcolm and Suzanne work together to discover what happened, and along the way, their relationship begins to evolve. It’s clear that they do have deep feelings for each other, and Malcolm’s secrets are revealed in some degree to Suzanne. The romance part of the book isn’t a big component – there really aren’t any sexually explicit parts at all, despite all the sexy times the characters supposedly had! Overall, I enjoyed the book – it was well written and Ms Grant obviously did a lot of research into the details. She does a good job of evoking the glamor and the richness of the time period. The women in the book are portrayed as very strong willed and intelligent, forging new friendships to uncover secrets, something that is often lacking in romancelandia.
As I said, this is part of a series, but for me it worked on its own. I did a search on other books, and there I got confused – it turns out that Teresa Grant had previously been published as Tracy Grant, and some books featured characters Charles and Melanie instead of Malcolm and Suzanne. The characters are the same, apparently, but a new publisher wanted different names for them. Previous book time periods were set after this one, so this was a prequel of sorts, I guess. I may check out some of the other books, after I figure out the best order to read them.