I’ve loved both of the Bella Ellis’s Brönte Mysteries series to date and the latest, The Red Monarch, is my favourite so far. If I could give it 6*, I would. It ticks so many boxes. Fast action, thoughtful detecting, literary and Brönte references, romance, the dirty violent underworld of London, dastardly baddies to defeat and wrongs to be righted.When Lydia Roxby runs into trouble in London, she writes to her former governess Anne Brönte appealing for help. Lydia’s actor husband Harry has been imprisoned by a violent gang, accused of stealing a jewel. Heavily pregnant Lydia is given seven days to return the jewel or Harry will be killed. The four Brönte siblings rush to London and find Lydia living in an attic room at the Covent Garden Theatre, run by Harry’s father.
The first problem for the Bröntes is how to find a jewel when no information is available. Lydia knows nothing and either people are ignorant or frightened to speak. The streets around Covent Garden are run by a gangster, Noose, and his network of thugs and spies. So, naturally, the first thing the Bröntes do is seek a face-to-face meeting with Noose.
Operating out of their comfort zone but driven by a clear determination of what is right, backed up by their love for each other, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell must negotiate the dangerous streets of the slums, adopting disguises, refusing to be cowed by threats and bluster, taking risks on who to trust. The more they find out, the clearer it is that they must confront the crime boss who terrifies everyone. But the so-called Red Monarch is so feared that no one dare say his name for fear of being overheard by one of his spies and subsequently killed as a traitor. The whole area exists in an atmosphere of fear and exploitation.
This is an original concept and a plot that, like its two predecessors, combines genres effortlessly. With witty asides and foreshadowing of the Bröntes’ writings – as this novel starts, the sisters’ first edition of poetry is published – this is both familiar and unfamiliar territory. Like comfort food, but surprisingly different. As the thoughtful, literary siblings pursue criminals, we see the strengths and weaknesses of each. Who would have imagined Emily carrying a sword?
Loved it. Oh, and another beautiful cover.
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THE RED MONARCH by Bella Ellis @bröntemysteries #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5wo via @SandraDanby