India Black is not your usual historical mystery protagonist, prim and proper and swooning at the thought of displaying an ankle. She’s a former prostitute turned high-class brothel owner and from the first page she doesn’t mince words about her situation. When a client suddenly dies in her brothel, India is blackmailed into helping the British government retrieve some top-secret files from Russian agents.
I have mixed opinions about this book. The story was interesting and I liked the main character a lot; I loved the fact that her motivation was stubbornness, that at first she was dragged into it against her will but then she wanted to retrieve the files to prove that she could. Most other mysteries have the heroine act out of a sense of duty, of having to do what’s right, so in that sense India was very refreshing.
However, while the idea behind the book was good, the writing was subpar and so the book itself wasn’t as good as it could have been. There were too many implausible events, things that only happened because the plot required it, characters that appeared because they were needed for a scene and then disappeared again like a convenient jack-in-the-box. And there were way too many chapters that felt like padding.
A third of the book could have been cut without losing anything important. At the start of the book there’s a couple of wonderfully tense chapters where India has the feeling of being observed and then gets kidnapped by two henchmen; and then all suspense is lost as the next chapter is all about politics and European history and why it’s so important to retrieve those secret documents. As a reader, I didn’t need to know all that! Just tell me it’s a case full of government documents, that’s good enough for me. I don’t need a complex historical justification, especially when the characters’ speech is quite modern, even American at times. Several times, India herself says in the narration that she’s bored by the prime minister, she’s bored by the journey in the snow, she’s so bored and hopes something will happen soon… as the reader, I wonder why she bothered with the last dozen pages at all.
I liked this book, but not enough to read the sequels to find out if the author’s writing improved.