Friday, June 20, 2014

The Hanover Square Affair, Captain Lacey Regency Mystery by Ashley Gardner

My Experience:  A+
Synopsis:  Cavalry captain Gabriel Lacey returns to Regency London from the Napoleonic wars, burned out, fighting melancholia, his career ended. His interest is piqued when he learns of a missing girl, possibly kidnapped by a prominent member of Parliament. Lacey's search for the girl leads to the discovery of murder, corruption, and dealings with a leader of the underworld. He deals with his own disorientation transitioning from a soldier's life to the civilian world at the same time, redefining his role with his former commanding officer making new friends--from the top of society to the street girls of Covent Garden. 
Note:  E-Release of 2003 book

Sherlock had Watson to narrate his adventures deducting truth.  Nero Wolfe had Archie reporting not only his genius but his intractable nature.  Columbo had a cast of guest stars revealing his rumpled intelligence. Monk had Sherona & Natalie to balance his obsessive compulsive attention to details.  Kate Beckett has Castle.

Captain Lacey has ... himself and a world he must navigate without really knowing how to begin.  I wasn't sure if that would work for me, first person narrative for a detective series.  I was torn between the voice of old skool radio detective dramas, Magnum's desultory tongue in cheek, and Keillor's Guy Noir's Midwestern endurance.  None of these voices suited the era nor the man.

Ms. Gardner made Captain Gabriel Lacey work hard to draw me in and create a tone of voice perfectly unique.  Doing this in less than one book so I signed on and purchased Volume One of the series is unprecedented.  My budget flinched, but cheap medium brew coffee is a sacrifice I'm willing to make once in a blue moon.  I've not regretted my two weeks of weak swill.

I thoroughly enjoyed the vignette writing style employed to set up the mystery, introduce the players and reveal thread by seam by pocket just who Gabriel Lacey had been, was in the moment and might some day become.  The dreadful realities balanced by the desperate hope gave him a ragged edge I really, Really, liked.  Chillingly atmospheric, the details are razor sharp.  This is not a book to skim or you'll miss a vital clue; a bead of exacting characterization.  The dialog is almost abrupt at times but it suits Lacey.  Others seem to be chuntering on in comparison; a nuanced difference Ms. Gardner uses well as she develops characters for the series and this mystery.

And though Gabriel - oh how I love that name - felt alone and out of place as muck on fine carpets, his feelings were false.  There was a landlady, a neighbor, an old lover lost and found, a child prostitute he wants to save, haunting memories, annoying connections, former associates, a new friend of some consequence,  a mentor that toppled from his pedestal and his lovely wife, plus an enemy that isn't quite an enemy.  From this list you might wonder how there was any time for a story about Captain Lacey, never mind a mystery, but there was and it was awesome!

"My career was the only thing in my life I had done right, and now I do not even have that.  With the end of the war and so many officers redundant, few regiments would be interested in a fortyish, wounded captain. And so here I was, washed up on London’s uncaring shores, a commander with no one left to command."

Jane Thornton, Aimee a maid, Charlotte Morrison, and Matilda, a kitchen maid all vanished, without a trace at about the same time.  Whether this is coincidence or linked occurrences  Lacey ends up entangled. Investigating their disappearances and wondering, "why civilized England was so much more dangerous for a young girl than the battlefields of the Peninsula had been for soldiers like me"  Lacey struggles to find his place in life, at moments to even want to live.  He conducts interviews, follows up leads and roams the city of London as well as the countryside looking for the missing among the lost.  It is a poignant journey.  There were times I ached for Lacey though he would've resented any indication of pity.  There were other times I believed he was doing exactly what he should to stave off the melancholia that might have swallowed him whole if he sat still too long.

I will note that for all his and other's frustration with his blunt manners, Lacey manages to be gentle with women, reasonable with children and to mine a depth of compassion that would shame a do-gooder.  I think the thing he has yet to realize is that he is not so much rough edged as impatient with the rituals of society.  He understands chain of command, minding your speech, accepting authority's privileges, but applying those lessons to civilian life is not translating well, at least in this book.  His fear is genuine and based in reality, his avoidance of it by jabbing at it so anger rises is understandable, that he must find a way to continue on is a conclusion he really hasn't made yet, but you don't truly doubt he will.

He does indeed solve the mystery and more.  He finds pieces of himself he was certain no longer functioned, as well as new uses for skills that seemed worthless in civilian life.  He's still unsure, still afraid, still mad as hell, but the hopelessness has abated.  The last few chapters held me in thrall - I could not stop reading; not the first or second time.  I purposely waited to read the next book because I wanted to write this review first, without tinge of "the sequel" that may or may not be as awesome.  That's the trouble with series of books for me, I make myself sick fretting over the next one.   Five times out of ten the fret was unfounded.

I recommend this book for any historical mystery lover.  You won't groan or cringe over accuracy.  But be advised their are mature themes - no graphic or lurid descriptions - and a hero that has a sharp edge not only to his prose but his confrontation of life.  I call books like this my no calorie chocolate, worth the indulgence and semi-sweet aftertaste!

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