Reckless in Red
This might be the toughest time I’ve had grading a book to date! Reckless in Red is a well-written historical mystery with an intriguing plotline but it was hard to see the forest for all the trees thrown in the way. There is a good story here but it’s hidden by too many characters and a few too many twists and turns. However, it is an interesting read.
Lena Frost has been on her own for a long time. She left home at the age of twelve when her father insisted that she return to a school where the headmistress beat her over and over again (and her father never intervened). Since then she has survived by her wits and her paintbrush. She returned to London (from France after the defeat of Napoleon) and has planned a giant exhibition in the form of a grand panorama of Waterloo. Most of the work is complete and things are looking bright for Lena’s future until she discovers that her partner, Horatio Calder, has absconded with their money and left her a note containing a single word – RUN!
Clive Sommerville, brother to the Duke of Forster, is a surgeon and secret agent of the Crown. He is on assignment to find a gang of killers who are murdering people to sell their bodies for dissection at medical schools. Having received a note from named Calder stating he has information regarding the murders, he seeks Calder out and runs into Lena at the panorama offices right after she reads Calder’s note. She thinks Clive might be who she should be running from and she sneaks away.
Clive returns to the panorama the next day and finds Lena working. As he watches, she falls from a ladder that appears to have been deliberately damaged (luckily Clive moves quickly and catches her). Now Clive thinks Lena may be in trouble as well. He is too much of a gentleman to allow her to leave alone and search for Calder, so they decide to spend the day together seeing what they can ascertain. By the end of the day, they have discovered two dead bodies, Lena is in hiding at the Duke of Forster’s residence, and it is clear to Clive that Lena has secrets of her own.
Clive and Lena agree to work as partners in the investigation. Fearing that others might intercept a direct message, Calder has left clues for Lena painted on the panorama – the gang members’ faces painted as a group of soldiers and a map to a location Lena needs to visit as a diagram being read by an army captain. He also used lemon juice to hide more behind his message of RUN! Clive and Lena use these clues to begin to track down the murderers but it might be too late to save Lena and her panorama.
There is a lot going on in this story and Ms. Miles is a talented writer. I was pulled into Lena’s story right from the beginning and it kept my interest throughout. Lena is a great heroine and I admired her survival instinct and independent streak, and Clive is an all-around good guy whose smarts, good looks, and, most of all, dependability make him a good match for her. Their romance, however, is a little quick – I was surprised by the pace Clive set when a ‘hey, I really like you and would like to see where this is heading’ would have been more appropriate.
I really enjoyed following the mystery but there are too many other things to follow. I was around ten percent into the book when I realized I needed to write down the names of some of the characters and put together a chart of who belonged to whom. This normally doesn’t bother me with a mystery because I love the feeling of ‘playing along’ to solve the crime. However, by the end of the novel, I had listed almost fifty characters, which was just way too many. Some of these could have easily been eliminated without detriment to the overall story. There was also a secondary plot involving the death of Lena’s father and her possible inheritance and the danger she was in as a result. This was resolved quickly at the end of the book; so quickly I wondered why we needed that subplot at all. This is also the fourth book in The Muses’ Salon series and the muses certainly had their role to play in the story, but their inclusion felt a little forced and gratuitous. There was also a scene thrown in near the end featuring Clive’s twin that was completely unnecessary and provided unneeded drama in Clive and Lena’s relationship.
In the end, I just wish the story had been tightened up so that all the good parts could shine undeterred. So… hard to grade. Did I enjoy reading Reckless in Red? Yes. Was I also frustrated with all the extras? Yes. Would I read another book in the series? Probably not. The beginning and middle were really good but the last part of the book just seemed to fall apart with extra plot twists and unnecessary convolutions and, added to the cornucopia of characters, it was just too much to earn a recommendation from me.