When Sir Archibald Latham of the War Office dies from a heart attack while visiting her brothel, Madam India Black is unexpectedly thrust into a deadly game between Russian and British agents who are seeking the military secrets Latham carried.
Blackmailed into recovering the missing documents by the British spy known as French, India finds herself dodging Russian agents-and the attraction she starts to feel for the handsome conspirator.
India Black is the first novel in Carol K. Carr's Madam of Espionage mystery series. Judging from the overwhelmingly positive reviews this novel has garnered, India Black, the title character, has charmed many a reader. I, however, am not one of them.
As the proprietress of Lotus House - a brothel - India Black is definitely not your average Victorian heroine. She's characterized as feisty, strong-willed and used to fighting for what she wants. When a client turns up dead in her establishment, India becomes unexpectedly embroiled in the high stakes game of international espionage. While this has the makings for a good story, it is undone by its numerous implausibilities and lack of character development. Although I liked India, Carr has given her heroine an insufficient back story, therefore leaving one with little knowledge of her even by the story's end. Furthermore, the hero, British agent French, remains mostly an enigma throughout the novel, as are the story's villains. Perhaps further character development will occur in later novels. Regardless, the book's under developed characters have left me with little interest in pursing this series.
Notwithstanding the implausibility of the plot and lack of character development, my biggest issue with this novel is India's poorly explained acquisition of a comprehensive knowledge of the geopolitical situation of Great Britain, Russia and Turkey/Ottoman Empire. It is extremely difficult to accept how a Victorian madam, whose limited back story hints at no formal education, could have acquired such a solid grasp of international affairs. Carr explains that India's acquired knowledge is a result of gleaning bits and pieces of information from her various clients. Yet this does not go far enough to explain India's encyclopedic understanding of the world around her, an understanding most people of the Victorian age wouldn't possess.
Despite my criticisms, I do feel this novel was clearly written and that the characters have potential.