For sixteen years Emma Smith has been the perfect wife and society showpiece for her husband, famous novelist John Smith. As the Victorian era draws to a close, Emma begins to realize she’s not completely happy with her life and her restricted lot in it. She makes a resolution to “become a better person,” and, with the aid of her husband, implements this by corresponding with a notorious murderer, Chance Wood. Since he’s in prison, he can’t harm her, and since the epistolary relationship was set up by her husband, society can’t frown upon her.
What follows is an awakening that Emma never imagined, leading to sexual encounters, ruthless acts, and very un-Victorian behavior. Lauren Baratz-Logsted was one of Harlequin’s first Red Dress Ink authors (How Nancy Drew Saved My Life) – those meatier-than-usual Harlequin titles with a chick-lit, explicitly sexual edge. With Vertigo, Baratz-Logsted’s effort to transition into the literary fiction genre isn’t entirely successful; the supposedly late-Victorian backdrop to the story varies between descriptions more evocative of the 17th or the 21st centuries rather than being precisely rendered. The plot is engaging, though increasingly unrealistic, veering at times towards horror, at other times towards fantasy. The quite explicit sex scenes may also deter some readers (especially those really looking for something more Victorian). However, there’s a nice touch of psychological playfulness at work in this book, leading me to believe that Baratz-Logsted’s future literary efforts may be less jarring – historically as well as in other senses – than this one.