The Blackstone Key (2008)
This, Rose Melikan’s debut novel, is far more entertaining and plausible than the second novel in the series, The Counterfeit Guest (2009). She starts well, but cannot sustain the style in the subsequent novels. Call it writer’s fatigue if you wish, but it went from OK to bad.
In this once, against the background of the first production of gunpowder for military purposes, the heroine “Mary Finch”, a modest schoolmarm, is caught up in a plot involving spying, murder and the 1793 war between France and England. The saving graces of the novel are the somewhat plausible characters, the clever plot, and the underplayed romantic element. The reader is on tenterhooks about who the criminal mastermind is and what the solution is to the code that Mary is deciphering, rather than whether she finally gets her man and her mansion.
The Counterfeit Guest, by Rose Melikan (2009)
Rose Melikan’s heroine, Mary Finch, stands on the gold-embossed cover of The Counterfeit Guest, looking stoic, hand clutching bosom, dragging a voluminous cloak, like a cross between “Scarlett O’Hara” of Gone with the Wind and “Jo” of Little Women. The illustration is a foretaste of the writing:- slickly executed but not quite convincing and occasionally too formulaic. At times it does not know what it wants to be – parody, romance or thriller, and the lead character dithers between being an early Suffragette and succumbing to wilting wantonness. But this novel, and Melikan’s previous one, The Blackstone Key, seem to have been a hit with historical mystery fans – and they should know how many blushes, fisticuffs and dramatic gallops are too much.
The Mistaken Wife, by Rose Melikan (2010)
I have had a go at all three novels in this series by Rose Melikan, featuring Mary Finch, the 18th century version of a Desperate Housewife, her dour captain Holland and their coterie of heaving-bosomed aunts and assorted historical figures. At Mary’s nth preachy, awkward speech about the history of France, the law or social customs (no doubt seen as useful and clever by the very academic author) I wanted to guillotine her. The latest escapade of Miss Finch is not so much an adventure as a very small storm in a tiny French teacup. I cannot say how it ends or who the Mistaken Wife was because frankly my dear, I didn’t give a damn and gave up midway.