Tracy Grant writes this book as Teresa Grant, for reasons unknown to me, but she's a favorite historical romance/intrigue/mystery author of mine who doles out her books much too slowly. This is only her third, after SECRETS OF A LADY (aka DAUGHTER OF THE GAME) in 2002 and BENEATH A SILENT MOON in 2003. I see that she has a sequel to these two, THE MASK OF NIGHT, out since March 23 of this year, but available only on Kindle. Sounds like I'm going to have to give in and get my Kindle soon. (One more interesting aside about Grant is that she and her mother Joan Grant collaborated in the late 80s and early 90s on several Regency romances, writing under the name Anthea Malcolm. Those novels, however, never impressed me quite as much as her solo work.)
This novel takes place in 1814 with the Congress of Vienna as the backdrop. Many important characters here are real historical figures such as Talleyrand, Metternich, Castlereagh and Tsar Alexander, who interact interestingly and realistically with Grant's fictional characters.
A beautiful and mysterious Russian princess, Tatiana, is murdered at the beginning of this story. She has been the lover of innumerable important political personages and almost no one can be left out as a possible suspect, including our protagonist Malcolm Rannoch, attache in the British Delegation to the Congress of Vienna. As a mystery, this book is very satisfying. It's a complex, fascinating whodunit with so many twists and turns that it is not easily solved by the reader.
Malcolm's wife is Suzanne, whom he met in Spain a few years before and married in what seems to be an alliance of necessity rather than love. Neither Malcolm nor Suzanne (now parents of a toddler under 2) are open with each other, keeping secrets that would better serve their relationship by being out in the open. They investigate the murder together, an investigation that unravels complex, fascinating political and sexual liaisons and, along the way, helps them to reveal themselves to each other and deepen their personal relationship.
The reader learns a lot about the political intrigues and alliances in Europe after the exile of Napoleon to Elba in an exciting and entertaining way. There are also several romantic relationships of both historical and fictional characters for added interest. But foremost, for the romance reader, is the relationship of Malcolm and Suzanne. They are frustratingly cool, stiff, and formal with each other, sidestepping a truly meaningful partnership with deep emotional attachments, but as they investigate the murder, layers of their past histories are revealed to the reader, even as they begin to reveal more of themselves to each other.
I very much enjoyed this well-written, intelligent, complex and richly detailed book. It has left me a bit puzzled, however, about the identities of Malcolm and Suzanne. They seem to be the Charles and Melanie Fraser of Grant's two earlier novels, but a few of the revelations about Malcolm and Suzanne's history in Spain and after marriage don't seem to be quite the same as what I remember of Charles and Melanie. Guess it's back to rereading those earlier novels to puzzle it out. That's the thing about Tracy Grant. You can't be a lazy reader if you want to understand everything in her books.