After an adventurous life during the Napoleonic Wars as a ‘diplomatic attaché’ Charles Fraser has settled down to London life. He has a seat in Parliament, a house in Berkeley Square, a wonderful wife, and two beautiful children. Then six-year-old Colin is kidnapped, and the Marques de Carevalo demands as ransom the Carevalo Ring. Centuries old and shrouded in legend, this long-lost family heirloom would serve as a powerful rallying point for mustering the Spanish populace to an overthrow of king and country. There’s just one hitch: the Frasers don’t have the ring. And Carevalo’s deadline leaves them less than five days to find it; something no-one has managed in seven years.
Before the hunt can get properly underway, however, there’s a bigger shock to come, as Charles’s wife Mélanie reveals that she is not at all what she claimed to be. And he soon learns that many people, and even he himself, are not who he thought. In the middle of the desperate search for the ring, Charles must face up to his own past before he can begin to accept hers. He also has to find a way to keep that one portion of the facts from Jeremy Roth, the intelligent and suspicious Bow Street inspector in charge of the case. As Mélanie tries to plan for a future in which both she and her devoted maid Blanca could be cast out by the men they love, the couple must overcome the threatened destruction of their relationship and work together. Not only to find the ring and save Colin, but to save each other from a series of increasingly dangerous ‘accidents’. And the Carevalo Ring is being hunted by more people than just them.
Mélanie Fraser was the perfect antidote to Constance Chatterley. She survived horrors before she met Charles and shared in his hair-raising exploits afterward. When the need arose, she didn’t shy away from telling Charles the truth about herself, even though she knew it could cost her everything. Nor would she keep on the sidelines like an aristocratic lady should, but plunged into the less savoury parts of London in search of the ring. It was obvious how well-suited she and Charles were, which provided at least a glimmer of hope for their future when things seemed darkest.
This is the first re-read that I’ve reviewed, and it holds up well the second time around. Knowing the identity of the last-revealed villain and remembering many of the twists and turns, I got to enjoy reading it more slowly. Without being caught up in the pace of the hunt, I could pick up all those hints that I missed the first time and admire how it all fitted together. (And having a taste for the classics, I had to love the fact that several of those clues were based on Shakespeare.) One thing I didn’t remember was the solution to the coded message that at one point became their only means of finding Colin; so I had the fun of cracking it all over again. Knowing all the secrets didn’t much dim my enjoyment, as the characters and the historical setting are so wonderful. The history here is all in the details, like the peeling silver gilt on a chandelier in a gaming hell trying to look better than it is, or a piece of canvas painted in imitation of a Persian rug in a debtors’ prison. Charles’s struggle to come to terms with Mélanie’s past is almost as compelling as the search for the ring; and while one of the kidnappers remains offstage, the other is one of the book’s most intriguing characters. Another favourite was Roth. He is initially uncomfortable working for a couple whose politics diametrically oppose his own, and who take for granted a lifestyle that includes a house whose small parlour is more than twice the size of his only parlour. And for a while it seemed that his conviction that there was something not quite right in the Fraser household would upset everything. But in the end he was the one who made sure that everything was wrapped up as well as possible.
I seem to recall that there’s a second book featuring the Frasers; I’ll have to start looking for it at the library.