Book Reviews · Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction · Regency Era

The Barrister and the Letter of Marque: A Novel, by Todd M. Johnson—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Crusaders come in all shapes and forms and some don’t even realize they are such a person until they face down injustice at the expense of reputation, career, and even life to see a wrong is righted.   The Barrister and the Letter of Marque by Todd M. Johnson, a historical mystery that balances Regency backdrop with legal thriller, contains a crusader that captivated me from page one.

A Regency period barrister, William Snopes, who champions the commoner in his clever and cunning way finds himself faced with a conundrum. Does he take a case that goes against his principle of never representing someone from the upper classes and particularly a case that has far reaching ramifications for all involved or tell the desperate woman, Lady Madeleine, he cannot?

To help make up his mind, he has his well-trained, staunch junior barrister, Edmund, his solicitor, and other reliable sources help him determine if the lady is telling the truth about her cousin, his ship, his crew, and goods being seized by the Crown for piracy because the Letter of Marque he was carrying has disappeared. No reports in the newspapers, no stirring in the legal community, and certainly no hint of the other mysterious backers of the ship have surfaced, but slowly he discovers that Madeleine is telling the truth and someone in great power doesn’t want any of it to come out even as they are prepared for a captain and crew and maybe Madeleine and her father to take the fall.

Madeleine has staked everything on this shipping venture and owes loans to some dangerous people even an American smuggler who, along with the greedy family lawyer, want their money. Her father’s mind is gone, the family estate is in shambles, and every friend, it seems, has turned their back on her. In desperation, she turns to a ‘blood-sucking’ lawyer to help her cousin survive the hangman’s noose and for her and her father not to be left destitute. Slowly, she realizes William is unlike any barrister she has heard of and he might be the only one who can fight in spite of all the disappearing evidence and witnesses while taking pressure from the judge, the prosecutor, unknown adversaries, and society itself for pursuing the case. The threats grow more dangerous. Many lives are at stake and the corruption behind the situation comes from powerful sources who can’t afford for the truth to get out.

I’ve always been fond of underdog characters and historical mysteries that include courtroom drama. This one got pretty dire for those on the side of good and there was a formidable group of villains ranged against them. The camaraderie among William and his investigation team was a great additional element.

The Barrister and the Letter of Marque starts slow as it introduces the characters, the world, and the mystery, but then it gains steady momentum until near the end when the pace is feverish and the suspense is ratcheted up pretty tight. This was not a mystery where the perpetrators and their motives were hidden so much as it was how to thwart the villains’ conniving, well-laid plans and powerful resources. Though, that said, there are surprise twists including a big one in the end to liven up the tale.

The author did a sensational job developing the character of William who is at the center of it all. Madeline and the others including some of the villains, as well, are deftly drawn and with depth so character, motives, and emotions give layers to the story.  I enjoyed getting to know and spending time with these characters and would happily see them return in a series.

The historical background and setting of post Napoleonic War Regency England was brought to rich, colorful life. The author made London and, particularly the dockside and East End, a sensual experience so that dark dank alleys, smoky aromatic Wharfside pubs, trading ships, and even Madeleine’s crumbling, impoverished estate easy to imagine. It was obvious the author did his homework on the era and also infused the story with his own legal expertise so that William, descriptions of his work, and the courtroom drama all rang true.

To wrap it up, I was well-enamored with The Barrister and the Letter of Marque. It hit all the right notes leaving me satiated but yearning for more mysteries and courtroom battles for William and his friends to solve. Though not gritty, the book isn’t exactly light and cozy either so it would appeal to anyone from historical cozy to mild historical thriller fans.

5 out of 5 Stars

Join the virtual book tour of THE BARRISTER AND THE LETTER OF MARQUE, Todd M. Johnson’s highly acclaimed historical mystery, August 2-15, 2021. Over twenty-five popular on-line influencers specializing in historical mystery, suspense, and inspirational fiction will join in the celebration of its release with an interview, spotlights, exclusive excerpts, and reviews of this new Regency-era novel set in London, England.

 TOUR SCHEDULE

The Barrister and the Letter of Marque: A Novel, by Todd M. Johnson

Bethany House Publishers (August 3, 2021)

Hardcover, paperback, eBook, & audiobook (416) pages

ISBN: 978-0764239137

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE BOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP

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Book cover courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2021; text Sophia Rose © 2021, Austenprose.com

Austenesque · Book Reviews · Regency Era

Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words, by Shannon Winslow — A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In a November 1814 letter to her niece, Jane Austen wrote that “nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without love.” She had brilliantly illustrated her point with many unenviable couples in her novels serving as warnings of what her protagonists should strive to avoid. Likewise, readers found in her most famous story, Pride and Prejudice, a hero dutifully resigned to such misery and a heroine determined to evade it. Prolific Austenesque author Shannon Winslow explores that hero’s path from misery to love in her latest Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words.

Fitzwilliam Darcy believes that he is destined to fulfill his familial duty by securing a society-approved mate for himself and proper mistress of Pemberley—and by choosing prudently, hoping for mutual respect at best, and knowing that love was neither desirable nor wise. “My early years had taught me, again and again, that to love was to suffer pain. To love was to surrender a part of oneself, to give the object of that love power over one’s life – power to wound or to destroy, either by accident or with intent.” (189) Therefore, Darcy resolutely heeds his late father’s advice by discreetly selecting a decorous lady from a suitably wealthy and consequential family, ever mindful of his family’s expectations and his own responsibilities. “To choose the wrong path, to be careless of the way, to neglect minding every step, was to invite calamity of a kind most painful and permanent.” (171)

After George Wickham nearly absconds with Darcy’s young sister at Ramsgate, Darcy finds himself shaken to his core by the barely avoided catastrophe and questions his own wisdom. Wishing to counteract his tendency to brood, he seeks diversion with his cheerful friend Charles Bingley at Netherfield Park. “In part, I had come to Netherfield hoping for a cure.” (1546) Continue reading “Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words, by Shannon Winslow — A Review”

Book Reviews · Historical Fiction · WWII Era

In Royal Service to the Queen: A Novel of the Queen’s Governess, by Tessa Arlen—A Review

There is something about royalty that is so fascinating to me. What would it be like to be born into a world of privilege and power? How do they live? Who are their friends? What are their secrets?

The British royal family is my favorite, so I jumped at the chance to read In Royal Service to the Queen, by Tessa Arlen. Based on actual events and real people, the story is told from the perspective of governess Marion Crawford. Her charges were the royal Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose Windsor. What she experienced while working for and living with the royal family could give me an insider’s view of the dreams, disappointments, and triumphs of the famous family. Telling this story in a fictionalized account is a tremendous challenge. Daunting, really. I was curious to see if Arlen could pull it off.

Marion Crawford was a young Scottish woman when she accepted a summer job in 1931 as the governess to Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, the two young daughters of the Duke and Duchess of York. This would evolve into a permanent position in the household of the second son of King George V who would later become king when his brother Edward abdicated the throne to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. We briefly touch upon this critical time in the life of Bertie and his wife Elizabeth who never expected to be elevated to the highest position in the land.

The story really begins to heat up after WWII in 1945 when Princess Elizabeth, the heiress-presumptive to the British throne, falls in love with Prince Philip of Greece, a young Royal Navy officer. Crawfie, as Marion is endearingly called by the family, is the only one in Elizabeth’s intimate circle who supports her choice of Philip as a possible husband. Marion herself has also fallen in love with George, a family friend who she wants to marry. This is a complicated situation for both ladies that will take subtle shifting of opinions of the king and queen on Elizabeth’s behalf, and patience and persistence for Marion. Over the next two years Crawfie is placed in a precarious situation—caught between her loyalty to Princess Elizabeth and risking her relationship with her employer Queen Elizabeth who we see really wears the pants in the royal family. After years of loyal service and personal sacrifice, Marion achieves her goals and sees Elizabeth and herself marry the men that they love, but at a great cost. A betrayal by her employer will sever her sixteen-year relationship with her dear princesses. Continue reading “In Royal Service to the Queen: A Novel of the Queen’s Governess, by Tessa Arlen—A Review”

Blog Tours · Book Reviews · Historical Romance · Victorian Era

Inventing Vivian, A Victorian Romance: The Blue Orchid Society (Book 2), by Jennifer Moore — A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In 1837, a sheltered yet determined 18-year-old became Queen Victoria and ushered in an era of immense transformation. Increased educational and employment opportunities for women and an overall increase in literacy cracked open the previously elite worlds of journalism and literature and scientific invention in exciting new ways. It was a time when a lady bluestocking might finally earn the chance to collaborate with other intellectuals as an admired and respected equal. Master storyteller Jennifer Moore has created a lovely and well-researched representation of this unique era in the latest tale from The Blue Orchid Society series, Inventing Vivian.

During a fateful meeting in a library sanctuary while escaping the unwelcome pressures of a ballroom, science-minded inventor Miss Vivian Kirby had made a pact with four other remarkable young ladies to form the Blue Orchid Society and to achieve their private ambitions with each other’s support and encouragement. Vivian was thrilled by the thought that her dream “was actually achievable. And the difference, she realized, was that she had the support of people like herself.” (237)

Vivian “was positively compelled by science and invention and technology. Understanding the mysteries of the physical world was more than simply a hobby. It was Vivian’s raison d’être. Her passion.” (92) After years of disappointing exclusion, being disregarded as an insignificant female, her dream is to display one of her many inventions at a prestigious—and exclusively male—science exhibition. Yet as a young lady from a respectable, wealthy family, Vivian is expected to behave with appropriate decorum, focusing on her appearance and seeking a suitable marriage. Though the discomfort nearly unravels her sanity, she awkwardly attempts to follow the path laid before her—with miserable failure the repeated result. Her logical mind rebels as she struggles to meet societal expectations. “The idea of casting aside her own pursuits to make a pleasant life for someone who cared nothing for her interests was intolerable to Vivian. Why would she seek such a union? What was the point of it?” (100) Continue reading “Inventing Vivian, A Victorian Romance: The Blue Orchid Society (Book 2), by Jennifer Moore — A Review”

Book Reviews · Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction · Victorian Era

John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose

Reader, I must confess that I went into this book totally blind. No blurb, no captions, and a mere glance at the cover. This is because I spotted the title and the author, and it was all over. I needed a gender swapped Jane Eyre-Dracula mash up to quench my insatiable curiosity and wonder over such a combo. Some authors might have difficulty pulling off such a feat, but I did not have a doubt in the world that in Mimi Matthews’ capable hands that John Eyre would dazzle.

John Eyre arrives at his new place of employment on a cold, rainy, and foggy night. He barely catches a glimpse of the new Yorkshire countryside or Thornfield Hall. His mind is weighed down by the past and his head aches dreadfully.  He craves the laudanum that he has been using to dull his memories and pain. But it is not long before natural curiosity for his peculiar new charges, his absent employer, and his new surroundings rouse him. Thornfield Hall might be remote, creak with odd noises, and the Yorkshire environs bleak, but John Eyre starts to settle in and feel a modicum of peace. Then Mrs. Rochester arrives.

Mrs. Rochester is changeable, direct, capable, and very much in charge. He senses there is great mystery from this well-traveled world-weary woman. She challenges him and his notions of women, and the world he has barely experienced in his humble circumstances. His very stolidity and sureness appear to be a challenge to her as well as they slowly become friends. That is until a well-known man of her own status arrives and rattles his confidence in their relationship. Nonetheless, he stands pat when events transpire that Mrs. Rochester requires his unquestionable and discreet trust. And he freely gives it. In the end, his love and trust are challenged, and he is faced with the irrational and incredible. Continue reading “John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow, by Mimi Matthews—A Review”