Evil in Emerald (A Harriet Gordon Mystery)

Written by A. M. Stuart
Review by Jean Huets

In book three of this mystery series set in 1920s Singapore, British widow and suffragist Harriet Gordon is rehearsing in an amateur theatre production, only to find her amateur detective talents in demand after one of her fellow actors is murdered.

As a reader, it was disheartening to be introduced to Harriet (not having read the first two books) as a woman whose “heart skipped a beat” in close quarters with a handsome man. No one would begrudge our heroine her thrill, but must it manifest as the cliché of clichés? If the reader is willing to overlook such prose, they’ll find Evil in Emerald moves along without much friction. The characters are generally likable and good, or unlikable and bad. Occasional respectable kisses and hugs throw in touches of romance. Stuart’s portrayal of colonial Singapore industry and politics creates a sturdy infrastructure for the book, with plenty of immersive details.

The solving of the murders takes place too often, though, as dialogues in vague surroundings, with no action save perhaps a teacup being lifted or a beard being stroked. The theatrical element and Harriet’s backstory drew me to the book, but neither seemed to take a central role. Harriet herself is sidelined: hobbled by boring social concerns and a subplot that upstages the crimes she’s enlisted to solve. Well into the book, Harriet’s friend, Inspector Curran, is pulled into dangerous family secrets—not only his own, but his wife’s.

Given the popularity of the first two of Stuart’s Harriet Gordon mysteries, and the mystery developing around Curran’s families, I suspect this volume is a bit of a dip, with better to come in future.