Alexander’s Victorian adventure has Emily and Colin Hargreaves embarking on a honeymoon in Constantinople, indulging the bride’s yearning for travel in an exotic locale. Emily has already made a name for herself in earlier novels, partnering with her diplomat husband on behalf of the English government, these other forays gaining the young woman her country’s gratitude.
The new Mrs. Hargreaves, wed against her mother’s wishes, has already proven herself capable of crossing the boundaries of propriety, while skillfully using her feminine wiles to ingratiate herself with men who would never tolerate such behavior from a less impressive female. So far the couple has proven themselves a valuable team given Colin’s diplomatic contacts and Emily’s instinctive ability to ferret out the truth. Arrival in Constantinople finds the Hargreaves on the cusp of a new mystery in the fading glory of the Ottoman Empire.
When a harem girl is found murdered, Emily seems the perfect person to cooperate with the sultan, Abdul-Hamit II, and his mother, the valide sultana, Perestu, in resolving the murder and avoiding scandal. Allowed to penetrate the harem, Emily is able to ascertain what Colin cannot, immersed in the cloistered world of those who await the attentions of their sultan.
Then there is the matter of a promise to a heartbroken father, a promise that will draw Emily deeply into the particular politics of a sheltered environment rife with secret plans and considerable danger. What appears a fairly simple crime becomes far more complicated as Emily parries with the valide sultana, a clever and untrustworthy eunuch, and an ingenious plan for revenge begun years ago.
Alexander captures the exotic beauty of Constantinople: the sumptuous palaces, the luxuries of English citizens in a changing country, the imminent danger obscured by elaborate manners and social propriety. The bride fancies herself a modern woman who treasures her freedom and her unconventional marriage. Indeed, her marriage allows Emily to avail herself of opportunities denied to single women, enjoying the attentions of worldly men even as she challenges the hospitality of the sultan, his mother, and other powerful women with whom she interacts.
Alexander pens mystery-lite, her charming protagonist well-meaning, stubborn, and sure of the moral rightness of her positions: “Hubris is a dangerous companion.” Buffeted between the romantic nights with Colin and her determination to uncover a devious plot begun in the harem, by the story’s end three people are dead. Emily herself barely escapes a harrowing confrontation with the murderer.
Most of life’s challenges still ahead, Alexander’s heroine is fresh and bright if a bit naïve, as a woman befitting her station in life, determined to evade the restrictions of Victorian society while working for good at her husband’s side.