The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner
Another author recommended this book in her monthly newsletter, so I thought I’d check it out. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my obsession with historical fiction, especially Ruta Sepetys’ work. This is my first foray into historical mystery, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.
London, 1816. Cavalry Captain Gabriel Lacey returns from the Napoleonic Wars in forced retirement, but his troubles with his commanding officer follow him home from the peninsula. Burned out, fighting melancholia, and struggling to adjust to civilian life, his interest sparks at the case of a missing girl. Investigating her disappearance brings him into a dangerous world of murder and corruption. To solve the mystery, Lacey will need to draw upon his friendships at every level of the social hierarchy—from celebrity gentlemen to a street girl of Covent Garden.
Lacey exemplifies the flawed protagonist. He holds grudges for eternity, but losers his temper in a flash, and he doesn’t hesitate to break boundaries—and bones—to get the information he needs. However, his backstory earns the reader’s sympathy, and his stubborn sense of honor toward women represents a characteristic much desired but little portrayed in modern media. He is such a deep character, I can see how the author built a sixteen-book series from him.
The other characters each possess distinct and vibrant personalities, each with their own motivations that drive their behavior, especially their mistakes. Unlike many books, Gardner does not reduce her minor characters to comic relief. Rather, she offers a realistic slice of humanity, including both the beauty and hideous nature of real people.
I have been binge reading fast-paced sci-fi and fantasy lately, so this represented a brake-screeching slow down for me. Objectively, I think the pace is slower than the average contemporary tale, but readers of historical fiction will find themselves at home.
The story navigates misdirection and twists to reveal the depths of political intrigue and underworld corruption that rivals that barbarity Lacey witnessed on the battlefield. The threat to the missing girl and Lacey’s gradually revealed backstory provided enough drama to maintain my interest throughout and moved the plot along well.
Gardners rich descriptions and vivid setting made me feel like I was watching a movie with a billion-dollar set and costumes budget without slowing the pace. She masterfully used the weather to set the mood for the grim tale, and each character’s interaction with Lacey brought out a distinct part of his personality and backstory.
- Usually when I read a mystery, I try to guess the ending, but this author didn’t offer enough clues for that. This is my first historical mystery, so I am unsure if this is genre-typical. I was reading for relaxation, not to stimulate my brain, so I didn’t mind that the book read more like a story gradually unveiled than a who-done-it. I enjoyed it, but readers accustomed to contemporary mysteries may need to adjust their expectations.
- A warning to sensitive readers, this book ventures into the darker aspects of human nature. The truly horrible things occur “off-the-page,” but the story touches on some awful themes.
- A woman in a pretty dress is standard for historical fiction covers, but it was irrelevant to the book’s content.
With a vividly descripted setting, rich cast of characters, and flawed-but-sympathetic protagonist, Gardner creates the perfect environment to pull readers through the mystery of the missing girl. She effortlessly captures the depth and breadth of human motivations and flaws while building intrigue and tension that lasts throughout the story. Highly recommend for readers of historical fiction who enjoy some mystery and aren’t afraid to venture into the darker side of 1816 London.
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