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Friday, May 30, 2008

A Flaw in the Blood

When Queen Victoria lost her beloved Prince Albert in 1861 the world was told that he died of typhoid fever. Although that is almost certainly not what killed him, the exact cause of Albert’s death is not likely to ever be determined. A Flaw in the Blood, Stephanie Barron’s Victorian thriller, speculates that something much more sinister than mere disease was the cause of death.

Irishman, Patrick Fitzgerald, who had defended Victoria’s would-be assassin in court some two decades earlier, could not imagine why he was being summoned to meet with the Queen at Windsor Castle in the middle of the night, the very night that Albert died there. But after refusing to sign a written statement demanded of him by the Queen and barely escaping death along with his ward, Georgiana Amistead, on the coach ride back to London, Fitzgerald slowly came to realize that the Queen feared both him and Georgiana for reasons of her own and wanted desperately to see them dead.

Georgiana Amistead is an unusual young woman, one of the few women of her time to have received medical training, and someone who has gained the respect and trust of Prince Albert himself. In fact, Albert has secretly consulted with her about the strange medical condition of his young son, Leo, a youngster who is constant danger of bleeding to death from the most minor of physical injuries. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria who is aware of correspondence between Georgiana and her husband resents the access that Georgiana had to royal secrets through her relationship with Albert.

So obviously neither Patrick nor Georgiana had any reason to expect that Victoria thought kindly of them. What they could not figure out, however, was why she saw them as enough of a threat to her that she was willing to send a one-eyed German count, Wolfgang von Stuhlen, on a mission to see them dead. As von Stuhlen chased the pair around Europe, and Patrick started to lose some of the people closest to him, he and Georgiana finally uncovered the secret that Victoria was so desperate to keep hidden away forever.

Most of this story is told in the third person but, by having Victoria narrate whole chapters in her own voice, Stephanie Barron places the reader inside the head of the very person making the choices that cost innocent lives and keep Georgiana and Patrick on the run. It is an inside look at a ruthless personality that I sincerely hope does not resemble that of the real Queen Victoria.

A Flaw in the Blood is enjoyable historical fiction and the world that Barron describes is one in which readers will gladly lose themselves for a few hours. But, first and foremost, it is a good mystery, one with just the right mixture of fact and fiction to keep its readers guessing and turning pages. I was a bit surprised that I did not feel more empathy for the two main characters than I did, however, and have to blame that on the author’s failure to quite get me to see Georgiana and Patrick, much less the villain chasing them, as real people.

Rated at: 3.5

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