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In the late nineteenth century, Rose McQuinn, daughter of a police officer and herself a private investigator, has had to cope with many losses in her life. She lost her husband, Danny McQuinn, when he vanished in Arizona. Her latest beau, Jack Macmerry, seems to have found happiness with another another lover. Then her step-brother, Vince, informs her that he has found the original owner of her deerhound, Thane. Although Rose refuses to hand the dog, her constant companion, back without a fight, she does agree to pay a visit to Thane's original owner, Hubert Staines, who lives in Northumberland. Leaving her beloved Edinburgh, she travels to Northumberland, where she finds that Hubert Staines had an ulterior motive for inviting her to stay. Moreover, there is something suspicious about Hubert's past and deaths that have occurred to his family members. Can Rose unravel the mystery without succumbing to death herself?
To be honest, when I first looked at this book and saw that Rose McQuinn calls herself 'Lady Detective, Discretion Guaranteed', I gave a mental groan and started the book expecting it to be as twee as its main character's title. Within two pages, I had changed my mind. Rose McQuinn is a character with whom I could immediately identify; she has had a hard life and now has found herself single once again, concerned about the future and facing loneliness. Her worry that she is going to lose her beloved pet also struck a chord with me. At the same time, she refuses to give in to her fears and uses her feistiness to forge ahead and get on with her life. I really enjoyed her as a character and, as she tells the story in the first person, I quickly began to enjoy myself.
There is a mystical element to the book. Thane, Rose's deerhound, seems to have almost magical powers and is therefore able to save Rose on many an occasion. Then there is Wolf Rider, a Sioux Indian, who is a shaman and former Circus performer. Again, he seems to have certain powers that enable him to do things that ordinary mortals cannot. Then towards the end of the book there is a situation that is very definitely difficult to explain in terms of our world. I quite liked this otherworldy aspect to the book, although I much preferred it to be hinted at rather than actually happen, which all seemed a bit unnecessary.
I really enjoyed the way that the story was told. Right from the beginning, there is a hint that things are not as they seem at face value, but it is quite a way into the book before the action starts. Far from being a disadvantages, this gives the author plenty of time to build up the atmosphere and I thought she did this really well with plenty of time to set the scene. The fact that the story is set in Victorian England adds another element to the story and although not overly dwelled on, it is interesting to read about Rose's place in society and her family's involvement with the Royal family. My only gripe with the story is that the ending could have been better. I do like a page-turning climax to my crime fiction and although this one was good, it wasn't brilliant.
The style of writing is quite simple and straightforward and I doubt the author will win any literary prizes for it. Nevertheless, it suits the type of book very well and allows the reader to concentrate on the story, rather than being bogged down by superfluous language. The chapters are generally very short, which made the book easy to read - I managed to gallop through it in just a couple of days.
I was really pleasantly surprised by this book. I thought it was going to be stuffy and pretentious; instead, it is unaffected and entertaining. It isn't brilliant, but it certainly kept me occupied for a few hours and I think that fans of crime fiction will enjoy it, particularly if they like historical crime fiction. The author has apparently written a number of other books featuring Rose, as well as some featuring her father, the legendary Inspector Faro, so I am looking forward to reading more of her work.
The book is available from play.com for £14.99 (hardback - the paperback version does not seem to be out yet). It is published by Allison and Busby. ISBN: 9780749080426
This review first appeared, with some minor differences, on thebookbag.co.uk, and was written by me.
The autumn of 1897 began well, but within days Rose McQuinn lost two precious things - her fiance, Jack Macmerry, and her elusive dog, Thane. Her stubborn refusal to give up her job as Lady Detective cost her the man whose love she had taken for granted. A police sergeant couldn't be expected to have a female sleuth for a wife, and so he found comfort in the arms of a more accommodating woman. And now it seems that Thane's real owners have been found. But when Rose tries to return the hound to the Staines family she is called upon to discover the identity of a blackmailer and thief. The family's tragic past colours Rose's search for the truth and plunges her into ever more dangerous waters. Just who can she trust in this isolated haven, and what type of life will she be returning to when she finally leaves?