India Black and the Rajah’s Ruby by Carol K. Carr is a short, glittering novella about one of the most fascinating female characters I’ve met in the last couple of years. India Black is the owner of a brothel in Victorian London, a business woman with a taste for danger. I’ve read the two novels in this series, but this story takes us back in time to show how India went from prostitute to owning a house herself. As such, it stands alone well, introduces you to India with a sparkling escapade that gives the reader all the background she needs. For those of us who already know India, it fills in the blanks of how she came to be where she is.
“Let the girls think I’m a superior breed; it discourages competition. Of course, it would be false modesty on my part to pretend that dexterity and daring didn’t enter into the matter. It most certainly did. A lesser woman than I might have quailed at the situation in which she found herself, but I carpe diemed, so to speak, and wrapped old opportunity in a stranglehold before he could hie himself off to parts unknown. So for the benefit of the driveled few, here is the unvarnished truth about how I acquired the funds to purchase my fine Georgian house on St. Alban’s Street, not far from the fleshly delights of Haymarket, and filled it with the softest beds, the finest liquor and the comeliest wenches in all of London.” (3%)
Philip Barret is one of India’s clients, a handsome young man who is on his way to becoming a partner in the shipping business. India truly enjoys spending time with him and jumps at the chance when he suggests she accompany him for a week in the country and use her charms to help him land a deal with a wealthy American. They aren’t at the manor long before the American shows off his ruby, the largest one in the world and possibly cursed. And of course the jewel gets stolen, Philip runs off leaving India to fend for herself, but with her quick-thinking, wit and beauty, along with a remarkable ability to lie with a smile, she’ll manage to stay out of jail.
We get to hear the conversations India is a part of, or overhears, but we also are privy to her internal monologues which are biting, sarcastic and practical too. In this one, she’s younger, but she still has seen a lot in her life. She’s far from innocent and though she can find men attractive, she is always going to look out for her own interests first. She’s actually a little more likeable in this outing. I’ve loved her in all of them, don’t get me wrong, but she’s brash and cocky and that doesn’t always go over well. As Philip says, she’s a “conceited wench.” I don’t know if she was a little toned down because she didn’t have the position in the world during this story that she does now, or the fewer pages made the action more of a focus. Either way, she’s an amazing character.
Overall, this a great read for both fans of the series and folks wanting to meet India for the first time. It’s short but has all the adventure and sassiness I expect from India Black.
5 out of 5 stars
Madam of Espionage #2.5
Published December 31, 2012 by Penguin
Book source: For review
Madam of Espionage Mysteries