In Brussels fresh from the intrigues of the Congress of Vienna, British agent Malcolm Rannoch and his wife Suzanne investigate a young lady’s murder. There’s little time and much at stake: “Boney” is on the march to Waterloo, and the scandal they uncover implicates the princely head of an Allied army.
The Rannochs make a talented and engaging team, he working the taverns and army camps while she covers the salons and ballrooms. I would follow these two and their complex relationship for many adventures – but unfortunately the complexity of their supporting cast is overwhelming. Every character seems linked to every other by overlapping webs of marriage and family ties, assignations and allegiances. I found myself referring frequently to the extensive list of “dramatis personae” in the front pages; midway through I found myself wanting a scorecard as well, to keep track of all the doubled agents and fickle lovers.
The period detail is as thick as it is correct, and I was impressed with the author’s even skill describing both ladies’ fashions and infantry tactics. The reader will learn much about each without feeling as though lectured. The solution of the mystery, however, left me unsatisfied: what’s really solved is a murder from the previous book in the series, requiring the introduction of a critical pair of characters some 300 pages into the present tome. This last, despite the author’s otherwise superb craftsmanship, made me sympathize with the unfortunate Général d’Erlon – rushing his ill-fated I Corps to and fro between Ligny and Quatre Bras, too confused to be of use in either fight.