I discovered this series via Goodreads’ “Readers Also Enjoyed …” recommendation section. The combination of a promise of exciting espionage by a femme fatale kind of character and the gorgeous cover had me persuaded to give the book a try. Also, I love the time period this book takes place in, during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Bizarrely enough, despite the word “mystery” being used to describe this book (it’s right on the cover!), it’s not a mystery novel at all. At least, I don’t think so … The story is about a woman named India Black who is a madam that runs a whore house in London, called the Lotus House. She becomes pulled into an international crisis of some sort when one of the clients of her establishment dies inside Lotus House. Said client is a pretty high ranking government official, who was supposed to be carrying a briefcase with top secret military documents that could be very detrimental to Britain should they fall into the wrong hands — such as Russian hands. India is forced/blackmailed by the Prime Minister of Britain and a government spy agent nicknamed French (real name is confidential) to help them in retrieving this briefcase that was stolen from the Lotus House. India becomes engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase with Russian spy agents as they both race to be the first to retrieve these documents.
If any part of it is a mystery, I suppose it’s when India was just trying to figure out who the gentleman was that died in her brothel, but that was solved very early on. I really don’t think this is a mystery at all. It’s certainly a thriller kind of novel though, and action oriented. Another thing about this novel that might throw you off is that the plot summary and even the cover of this book look “serious” and “cool”– however, it’s actually humorous. I read some reviews where people said the characters were kind of ‘idiotic’ and certain plot points is nonsensical or bizarre, in a “why the heck would they do that?” kind of way. I really think it is all intentional, as my impression of the novel is that it’s all meant to be sort of comedic. No, I don’t buy the reason why the British government would recruit a brothel madame to help them retrieve top secret documents and various other events in the book, but I never, for once, felt this was a serious, realistic espionage novel. So I was able to easily suspend my belief and enjoy the ride.
With all that being said, I actually found myself quite enjoying the story. Mainly because I found it funny. The plot is kind of predictable, but India’s wittiness, sarcasm and humor held my interest. And you know what, it was just a plain ol’ fun novel to read. It didn’t take itself seriously, and it was so easy to slip into the story.
I think the main shortcomings of this novel is that it was packaged all wrong (not really a mystery, looks too serious on the outside); as well, the official book premise includes a promise of India starting to develop feelings for the British spy agent French … but that never happened in the book!! To be fair, I did get a vibe that India and French were to be an item in the future, however, this vibe came from my own ‘intuition’, if you will, about how characters in such novels usually end up. I don’t think I could find much contextual evidence to support this vibe I have. I think there was only one scene where the two of them had a slightly meaningful conversation, but 99% of the time, they were just bickering at one another.
So, all in all, initial expectations from the book’s premise and book cover could be potentially disappointing, especially if you thought you were getting a certain story but really wasn’t. However, overall, a very fun book and a series that I would love to continue reading.