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The Mystery Woman is the second book in her Ladies of Lantern Street series and features another lady employed by the Flint & Marsh agency. Beatrice Lockwood has a sketchy past, previously working as Minerva the Magnificent for Dr. Roland Fleming at the Academy of the Occult. While it was a dubious occupation, Beatrice's talent is authentic. When she discovers that her employer is murdered and that she is the target of the hired assassin, Beatrice flees with their money and assumes a different identity -- her real one is Beatrice Lockwood and finds employment with the Flint & Marsh agency.
"You have been like a daughter to me, Beatrice. My dying wish is to try to save your life. Honor me by fulfilling it. Leave this place now. Use the bolt-hole. Take your pack and your lantern. When you are away from here you must never return. He will search for you. To survive after this night, you must remember everything I taught you about going on the stage. Rule Number One is the most important."
- Chapter 1
But her past has come back to haunt her: one of their former clients is being blackmailed and all clues point to Beatrice as the blackmailer. Joshua Gage is the brother of the former client, who also happens to be a retired agent of Mr. Smith, head of a secret government agency that handled "special" cases. He is seeking out Beatrice to get his answers, and, hopefully, stop the blackmail. What happens, though, is that Joshua unwittingly sets into motion a terrible scheme, formulated by Joshua's former partner, a man he thought had died during a failed rescue attempt. The scheme involves the eyes of Anubis, a woman with special psychical talents, and the supposed ability to bring a person back to life.
Amanda Quick is an amazing storyteller and she wields full mastery over this fantastic world she has crafted throughout the years. Beatrice has the talent of detecting energy in people's footprints. It has proven useful in her new job at Lantern Street. It never occurred to Beatrice that she would be targeted by a madman who needs her special talent for a very ambitious (and seemingly impossible) project.
"I see the psychical energy that others leave behind in their footprints and on the things they touch. The colours and patterns of the currents tell me a great deal about the individual who generated them."
- Chapter 13
Quick explores the world of Egyptology and tackles the issue of death/life/resurrection. I've always been fascinated with historical romances with Egyptian lore included in them, and Amanda Quick does it so well: there's enough information and detail about artifacts and the paranormal to colour the world, but not too much that it becomes an esoteric exercise. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. What I enjoyed even more is the mystery that Joshua and Beatrice are investigating. Who is the Bone Man? Who hired him? Who is blackmailing Hannah Trafford? As a mystery, this was well-planned, well-plotted and well-paced. Each action builds up to the next until the final confrontation between Joshua, Beatrice and the villain.
The romance aspect is a bit sparse, and Quick does rely on the paranormal/psychical to show the attraction between the hero and heroine. It's not quite insta-lust or even insta-attraction, but it is understood that there is a connection between the hero and heroine that will lead to love through the course of the mystery.
A strange feeling whispered through her, stirring her senses. She suddenly got the disturbing premonition that taking the card would change her life forever in ways she could not begin to imagine. There would be no going back. Ridiculous, she thought.
- Chapter 2
I wonder how the story would be if Quick focused more on the romance and development of the relationship between Joshua and Beatrice: on one hand, I think it would add more dimension to her main characters, but, on the other hand, I think it would take attention away from the mystery. (It's curious that Amanda Quick recently released Otherwise Engaged, a straightforward historical romance/mystery without any paranormal elements. I wonder if there'd be more focus on courtship and romance in that one.) I did like that Joshua wasn't a believer in the paranormal, relying on logic and reason, instead and enjoyed the debates he had with Beatrice about her talent. I think this is the Amanda Quick book that truly addresses the reason vs "magic" discussion.
"You don't think much of my former profession, do you?"
"I give it the same degree of regard that you give my former career. Face it, sir, you and I were both in the business of manufacturing illusions for the purpose of deceiving others. I am still in that line." She gave his beard and unfashionable attire a dismissive look. "And evidently so are you."
- Chapter 15
* * *
"You don't think it's paranormal in nature?"
"No, I do not," he said. "It's merely a combination of observations -- some of which are so small that we are not even consciously aware of them -- and unconscious awareness of the connections between these observations."
"Some might call that psychical awareness," she said.
- Chapter 25
So, is it reason that saves the day? Or Beatrice's talent? What prevails between the dialogue of these two characters? It's Joshua who gets the final say in Chapter 50, read the book to see what he thinks of Beatrice and her talent. ;-)
The one negative thing I will say about Amanda Quick is that I can't afford that her books come out as hardcovers first before being printed in paperback format. It is a test of patience, but, for an Amanda Quick book, it's always worth the wait. ^_^
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