A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden

smokeReaders of Anne Perry will enjoy this mystery set in Victorian England.  It’s a mystery that concentrates more on social and historical issues of the time, in this case railroad safety.  The characters are interesting and the story is fast-paced and engaging.

Set in the 1870’s, Elizabeth Fraser is returning home from her “Fourth Season” with her mother, when their train derails and catches on fire.  Elizabeth and her mother are helped to the safety of a nearby inn, with the other survivors.  Elizabeth puts aside her society woes (no husband, questions about her dowry) and spends her time helping the doctor treat the wounded.

Elizabeth’s friendship with the doctor leads to her involvement in a growing concern about rail accidents and whether complaints about the safety of the rails are being ignored by the politicians and corporations that benefit from rail commerce.

I liked how Elizabeth grows as a character, although we see very little of her character before the accident takes place.  I wished I knew more about her character before the accident, since one accident, however horrific, would hardly have turned her from a pampered society lady to someone who’s willing to risk her safety and ignore all social protocols.  Elizabeth becomes increasingly constrained by the life she’s expected to live, which basically means finding a good husband and then never leaving the house.  Over the course of this book her family begins to feel more like her jailors.  But while Elizabeth is learning more about the world outside her home, she also learns more about her family as well, particularly her often traumatic relationship with her mother.

I also really liked how this book took us into the worlds of Victorian politics, journalism, and medicine.  It is clear that Odden did a lot of research on medicine of the time, from leeches to cupping to laudanum and “railroad doctors” as well as the early ideas about post-traumatic stress.

I also appreciated that societal constraints of the time were treated as real barriers, not just ideas to get around.  Class society matters at this time, and it’s taken seriously.  Elizabeth has access to resources and people that her journalist and doctor friends simply don’t have.  But she has constraints as well.

You all know by now that I like books where the history comes first and the romance second, and this is another great example. We get history, politics, intrigue, and romance, in a very balanced and well-written story.

As a big fan of Anne Perry, I will say this book lacks the detail Perry brings to her writing, but that’s not entirely a bad thing.  I didn’t read this book wanting to be overwhelmed with details about railroad construction, and I wasn’t.  What I got was a good story, a bit of romance and an interesting lead character.  In fact my biggest complaint about this book is its rather silly-sounding title.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Random House Alibi.  The book will be released March 29, 2016.

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