A Flaw in the Plot

I don't know how I got into this historical mystery kick. No, wait, I do know. It's all because of C.S. Harris and Sebastian St Cyr. Once I bought all the books in that series Amazon started tempting me with "others who purchased this book also bought." I'm such an easy mark. This is my third mystery set in the Victorian era with a heroine who wants to break out of the accepted role of women and a hero with a past. At least no one has psychic powers in this one.

On the other hand: Victoria Regina, we hardly knew ye.

The plot in A Flaw in the Blood centers around the death of Queen Victoria's beloved consort Prince Albert and the question of how hemophilia entered the Hanover-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha bloodline. If you're expecting the standard prissy widow in serious morning version of Queen Victoria be warned, this Victoria has a secret diary and isn't afraid to confide in it. The narrative is split between third-person accounts of the adventures of English Doctor Georgiana Armistead and Irish-born lawyer Patrick Flanagan, the dastardly efforts of German Count Wolfgang von Stuhlen to silence them and Victoria's secret diary. The action lives up to its "A Novel of Suspense" subtitle by constantly putting Georgiana and Patrick in mortal danger, usually at the hands of von Stuhlen. But is he acting on Victoria's orders or is she just another mark in his game?

I'm hard pressed to explain exactly what didn't work for me in this book without giving away key plot points. I don't want to do that because this book isn't bad at all, it's decently written and I'm sure many an intelligent mystery fan would find it enjoyable. So I'll try to convey my reservations without treading too close to the plot. The writing in general is solid. Barron does occasionally write dialog in phonetic dialect, something that bugs me beyond measure when it's over done but it was tolerable here.

There are a few problems here thought and chief among them being the characterizations of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, both of which strain credibility. It's ingenuous, I suppose, to have the Little Miss Perfect who ruled England for over 60 years be diabolically ruthless but I couldn't quite swallow that. Strong-willed, spoiled and a little wacky after Albert died, yes. Sex-obsessed and potentially murderous? Not so much. At first her diary confidences are merely surprising - the idea that Victoria desperately needed an outlet for her true feelings rings true. But would Victoria really have written about Albert's "erection surging"?
Nor could I buy the idea that Prince Albert was SO principled and so innocent that he would give up his hard won personal power. Or that he was so principled he couldn't tell when what was "right" might in fact cause national if not international turmoil. An "Angelic Being" is one thing, a village idiot is quite another. Of course, I think I'd buy that quicker than I would that he was a feminist.

Georgiana and Patrick are the least fleshed out characters in the book. Part of the problem is that keeping thinking and saying the same things. Georgiana can't let too long go by without declaring "I'm a doctor" and Patrick has to moon over her at least once a chapter. It doesn't leave them a lot of room to grow. It also got a little tiring for me but then I'd rather "observe" a character than be "told" about them. Patrick thought about how much he worshipped Georgie but I was never too sure what the attraction was for him. Same with Georgie who's too frequently reminding Patrick and anyone else within earshot that she is a doctor! I'm all for a little anachronistic I-am-woman-hear-me-roar but Georgie veered into sandwich board territory at times. Also, what drove a woman to make such an unconventional choice against such enormous odds? Sure she was intrigued and her "guardian" was a famous doctor but that's not exactly depth of characterization. By contrast the villain Von Stuhlen and even the revisionist version of Queen Victoria are better drawn. You can't help but get the feeling that Barron had more fun writing for those two. Von Stuhlen has a key advantage over all the other characters in that he has a motivation for his actions that makes sense.

The plot is intriguing enough. But even there the links to Georgiana and Patrick were too stretched to be convincing. If you can believe that Prince Albert, an arch traditionalist in most matters, would consult a woman doctor on the topic of cholera and public sewage, than you're doing better than me and you probably stand a better chance of enjoying this book.

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