The Serpent and the Scorpion
Ursula Marlow, heiress to her father’s textile empire, travels to Egypt for cloth purchases in 1911. She meets up with her new friend, Katya, the wife of a Russian financier. Katya is murdered in a marketplace just feet from Ursula. When she probes into the woman’s death, she’s warned to mind her own affairs. A special inspector is brought in, alerting Ursula to a high-level cover-up. Ursula returns to England to investigate the death of a young woman in a fire at one of her mills. When Ursula discovers these deaths may be related, involving Bolsheviks and a Palestinian settlement—and her life is threatened—she is determined to find the truth.
Historical detail is excellent, especially in Egypt. But information is repeated often, and the prose is weakened by adverbs. Ursula is at times reckless, naïve and astute. She manages to eavesdrop at just the right moments and spills information to the one person she shouldn’t trust. It’s an intriguing tale, but awkwardly told. In this second of a series, the ending sets up the premise for a third.