Eloise Kelly is still researching her thesis on spies from the Napoleonic era, specifically the Pink Carnation. With minimal assistance from the Selwick family, descendants of the Purple Gentian (another flower-spy), Eloise has made in-roads into not only the escapades of the Pink Carnation but the emergence of the French spy, the Black Tulip. She has not, however, made in-roads with Colin Selwick.
In the past, Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe has planned to elope with English beauty Mary Allsworthy. Unfortunately, his plot is foiled by her younger sister Letty, who throws herself smack-dab into rumor and ruin. Geoff leaves his new bride behind while going off to Ireland, but unwilling to let her husband humiliate her by gadding off, Letty follows him. When she reaches Dublin, she finds herself in the middle of espionage--along with her husband and the Pink Carnation.
I have much the same thoughts on the tendencies of series to go on too long with this book as I had with the previous book. Add into that the ho-hum nature of the current trend to write during the time of Jane Austen, and that part is the same as my previous review. So, I'm going to move on to other things.
I noticed again in this book that Willig, while well-versed in British history, doesn't know her ancient empires as well. Letty has this conversation with Lord Vaughn in a crypt (p. 217):
"You would prefer to die for something else perhaps? A cause? An ideal?" He paused, holding up his cane... "A country?"
"You left out old age," replied Letty.
"How very unambitious of you, Mrs. Alsdale."
"Alexander the Great died in his bed."
"Not so Caesar," countered Lord Vaughn, adding, with particular emphasis, "or Brutus."
Rather than bandy Romans, with whom her acquaintance was strictly limited, Letty resorted to changing the subject."
Where shall I begin? An assumption made by the casual reader is that Alexander the Great was Roman. He wasn't. He was Macedonian. He was responsible for spreading Hellenistic (not to be confused with Hellenic) culture throughout the known world at that time. The Roman Empire didn't exist yet, not until the rise of Caesar in the first century BC (or BCE). Don't lump them all together, please. And perhaps you could say that Letty was mistaken in that, but Lord Vaughn would know better. The next thing is that yes, Alexander the Great died in bed, but it was most definitely not from old age, and this was a known-fact during Letty's time. He was relatively young, in his thirties, and died from either a stomach ailment from bad food or from poison. Take your pick. But NOT old age.
The book is just as cheeky as the first two installments. I bought the way that Geoffrey fell in love with Letty over the course of their assignment. It was gradual and both began to respect each other. Their conversations were delightful, even if they were about how horrible mimes were. It's a testament to Willig's skill as a writer that she is able to tie Eloise and Colin's story to those of the spies. In Black Tulip, much of the scenery is the same over 200 years; in this book, much of the conversation is echoed across time. (That would be mimes.)
I also liked the use of Ireland as a backdrop. Ireland is ignored as a setting, bypassed for the more glamorous England. Too bad that Ireland still got short shrift culturally, because I find it much more interesting, but eh, I didn't write the book. She pokes a bit of fun at the Irish (and the Americans in the Eloise scenes, silly expats!) with the rebel song (p. 383):
I can't help but like this. It's hilarious.
Why in the hell did rebel movements always have to express themselves in song? Geoff recognized it as "The Lament of Lord Edward Fitzgerald," a lugubrious little ditty that began "Why lie ye here so pale and cold, Edward, Edward?" and went on along that vein for the whole of thirty-eight verses, including a glowing report of Lord Edward's childhood lessons and his preference for jammy tarts at sea ("Oh, ye who liked the raspberry, Edward, Edward"), before getting on to the usual bits about bloody blades, bared breasts, and women weeping.
So what's my grade? An A-. You killed me at the Alexander the Great bit.