The Counterfeit Lady
(Victorian Bookshop Mystery #2)
by Kate Parker
A cousin of Georgia’s dear friend, Lady Phyllida Monthalf, is brutally murdered in her home during the theft of blueprints of a new battleship designed by her husband—who now stands accused of her murder…and treason. The Duke of Blackford, in service to Whitehall, enlists Georgia and the Archivist Society to assist in the investigation. Playing the part of the duke’s new paramour, Georgia gains entry into the upper echelons of London’s elite, where amidst elegant dinners and elaborate parties a master spy schemes to lay hands on the stolen plans.
The duke is no stranger to the world of international espionage, but Georgia is out of her element in more ways than one. She must not allow her genuine attraction to the duke—or her obsession with finding her parents’ killer—to distract her from her role. But when a mysterious stranger threatens to expose her, the counterfeit lady may be in real trouble…
Two books into the Victorian Bookshop Mystery series and I still want to know more about the Archivist Society, a motley crew of individuals with particular sets of skills that help solve crimes from time to time. There have been references to incidents prior to the first book but nothing is fully flushed out. The Archivist Society is as much a mystery as the murder that must be solved.
Lady Phyllida Monthalf hid herself from society decades earlier when her brother was convicted for serial murders. She lives with Georgia Fenchurch, a bookstore owner, and Emma, an associate in the store, member of the Archivist Society, former fallen woman and stunner. When Phyllida’s cousin Clara is killed and her husband Kenneth accused of the murder, she believes wholeheartedly that the husband didn’t do it and works with the Archivist Society to clear his name.
In a sweet twist of fate, the Duke of Blackford makes another appearance in The Counterfeit Lady. He helped on a previous case and gave Georgia a case of the vapors from time to time. He’s a handsome and strong man whom she realizes she has feelings for even as she keep her head on with the fact that he’s a duke and should marry accordingly. Georgia is pleased that the Duke will be working on this case until he reveals that Lady Phyllida Monthalf must reenter society along with a relative, Georgina, in order to learn who truly killed her cousin and why.
(The Duke has been charged by the government, who knows about the Archivist Society – See? More secrets! Why does the British government know about this group? – to determine who was trying to steal warship blueprints from Kenneth’s house. He is the engineer who designed the ship and the German’s want the blueprints.)
Georgia reels from the news that she is to pretend to be of a higher station and enter society, more so because she will need to leave her bookstore in the hands of members of the Society. I appreciated these moments of normalcy. Georgia is a small-business owner who runs her business to survive. It’s not a dabbling hobby of a wealthy woman. The first couple of days ensconced in a new household run by Phyllida and supported by Emma as her lady’s maid are difficult. Georgia stays out late, as one in society does, but drags herself up in the morning to visit the store. Too bad it’s running just fine without her.
To add to Georgia’s dismay over the plan, the Duke has created a backstory for them – they knew each other years ago in India, before Georgina married and moved to Singapore with her husband. Now that she is back and widowed (a handy piece of information that occurred in her real life, her fiancé died before she could marry him; always best to keep as much truth in a lie as possible) the Duke will take her for his paramour. Georgia concedes to flirt with the Duke publicly but insists there will be no paramouring between them. This is more to protect her heart than anything else. She won’t be a mistress and she knows the Duke can’t marry her. Better to flirt a bit when she can and keep her distance the rest of the time.
The suspect list is long and new information keeps shifting the most likely puppet master who hired the man to steal the blueprints, and who inadvertently killed Clara (never part of the plan). The summer is hot in London so a trip is planned to the countryside where there will be a ball and most likely an exchange of the blueprints.
I found the mystery and sleuthing fine but I read this series for the slow-burning romance between the Duke and Georgia. It is obvious that he is fascinated by her and attracted to her. When Georgia brings up him having to marry suitably and even names a couple of appropriate ladies, he laughs them off and proclaims that Georgia is the only interesting woman in England. His earnest attentions unsettle Georgia because they can never be anything more than that – attention.
Of course, as the reader, I can’t help but root for the two of them. The Duke is so powerful he could defy society and marry Georgia Fenchurch, bookseller. And besides, it’s fiction.
There is also a long-burning mystery that carried over from the first installment. Georgia’s parents owned the bookstore before her and were killed by a man who was convinced they had a rare copy of the Gutenberg Bible. When they couldn’t deliver it – because they didn’t have it – he killed them in a fire. Georgia pursues leads when she can to find out who this man is and bring him to justice. At the beginning of the book she learns the supposed “Mr. Wolf” has returned to England. By chance, she sees him in the countryside when she off to the ball but when the Duke accompanies her to the family where he is known to be staying, he has already left. The book ends with a letter from Mr. Wolf that he has already left England to pursue the Bible and she shouldn’t bother to pursue him. I doubt that will happen in the forthcoming third installment.