A Chance at Redemption

The body of an infamous beauty found in the gardens. A host of suspicious haute ton scandalized and looking for who is to blame for such an outrage. The son of the most respected inquiry agent in the British Isles determined to bring justice to bear. And a young widow only recently - and dubiously - acquitted of macabre behavior during her marriage to an anatomist. The suspect is an obvious one.

Lady Kiera Darby faced public scorn, and very nearly legal scrutiny, when it was revealed she had assisted her late husband in his endeavor to compile an illustrated compendium of human anatomy. Known for her artistic talent, it became common knowledge that Lady Darby had not only observed and recorded the ghoulish explorations, but possibly also selected the "victims" for Sir Anthony's table. She has been branded "unnatural" and unfit for good society ... but the sensational image of a Bathory-esque murderess could not be further from the truth.

A victim of social condemnation that falls all-too-easily on the most vulnerable, Kiera hides a twisted and disturbing truth. What would persuade a young woman to participate in human dissection in a time when well-bred females were considered too delicate for the more grisly facts of life and death? Why would an artist whose gift it is to find and reveal the spark of life in her subjects turn her talents towards a grimmer source of inspiration? Things are not as they appear and the truth - as it is revealed piece by heartbreaking piece - proves more tragic than the wildest of society's imaginings.

All of this forms the background for the sudden and mysterious death of a famous socialite at a party held at the country estate of Kiera's brother-in-law. Who is there to blame when a seemingly senseless and brutal murder occurs and one of the first on the scene is a notorious pariah? Kiera faces scrutiny and the possibility of the path to the gallows once more.

Investigating the murder is none other than Sebastian Gage, son and heir of the highly-regarded Captain Lord Gage, whose success as an inquiry agent is beyond dispute. Though she finds little in this man to recommend him - a spoiled rake known for his affairs -- Kiera finds him to be her best hope of finding the true killer and saving her from finally being claimed by the hatred and mistrust which stalks her. Uneasy allies, together Kiera and Gage develop a surprisingly balanced partnership that proves more effective then either could have imagined.

When all is at risk, you find yourself prepared to face uncertainties and terrors beyond what you might otherwise be able to endure. For Kiera, everything is at stake, and every twist and turn of this devilish mystery forces her to the brink. She knows that everything will be lost if she fails, but will be surprised by what there is to gain with success...

This was a wonderful story that I can't believe I held off reading for so long! The characters were exquisitely wrought - Kiera is such a fascinating woman and Gage reveals layers to a more complicated personality than she had at first assumed. This partnership is one of the strongest I've ever read, and the warm hints of something more beneath the surface are tantalizingly well-written. Not only do they find equality of the minds, but kindred souls capable of accepting and understanding the respective scars they bear.

The mystery itself is wickedly clever, and engenders a fabulous tension throughout the story. Scenes reminiscent of Gothic horror provide a fitting thrill and make matters more urgent. The who and the why are revealed in time, but this story is clearly all about the journey rather than the destination. Woven in are period details, social mores, personal drama, and a chance for some measure of redemption -- which never should have been needed. I couldn't get enough of it. Bravo!