Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A Rogue's Company by Allison Montclair

 

First Lines: August 1, 1946. It is said that the first naval conflict of what was then called the Great War took place far removed from the main European theatres.
 
The future looks bright for the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Business has picked up, and Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge have had to expand their office and hire a receptionist. Then Lord Bainbridge returns from Africa sooner than expected, and everything goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket. The widowed Gwen's father-in-law and legal guardian, Bainbridge is set to undo everything that Gwen holds dear, including sending her six-year-old son to a hated boarding school.

But there's more going on than Lord Bainbridge riding roughshod over his entire household. There's a new client at the marriage bureau whom Iris and Gwen begin to suspect of having a hidden agenda which just might include the Bainbridge family. Then a murder and kidnapping occur, and Iris and Gwen are forced to seek help from a very unsavory source, but with lives at stake, they have no alternative.

~

I couldn't be happier that I discovered Allison Montclair's Sparks & Bainbridge historical mystery series when the very first book, The Right Sort of Man, appeared. This series, now on book three, has done nothing but get better and better, and I think I spent most of the time while reading A Rogue's Company with a big smile on my face... that is when I wasn't actually laughing out loud.

Montclair doesn't spend a lot of time giving us period detail. A simple line mentioning "piles of rubble waiting to be collected from the bomb sites" is more than sufficient to put me firmly on the streets of post-war London, and Gwen's conversation with young Stephen Burleigh is a strong reminder of soldiers coming home from the war and the horrors that they had to endure.

If Montclair doesn't spend a lot of time setting her stage, what does she do? She tells a fast-paced marvelous tale of deception and abduction that keeps readers putting the pieces together-- and loathe to put the book down until it's finished. More than that, she continues to develop her fantastic cast of characters. 
 
After what's happened in the previous two books, Gwen begins taking self-defense classes, and it's her continuing maturation that often takes center stage. Gwen led a sheltered, privileged life until the death of her husband during the war. When he died, she came emotionally unglued. Her grief was so intense that her in-laws put her in a hospital, made themselves her legal guardian, and took away custody of her six-year-old son, Ronnie. In the first two books, Lord and Lady Bainbridge were nothing but despicable, but now in A Rogue's Company, we begin to see cracks appear. Subtle changes can be seen. Motivations raise their heads above the parapet. The lord and lady are no longer cardboard cut-out villains, and that's something to applaud.

Even secondary characters and those with bit parts shine in this book. Little Ronnie is a typical boy and an absolute sweetheart. If I want to get somewhere fast, I'm going to insist that Barry drives me, and Percival the "plummy-voiced berk" is just the butler I'd want to have in my own establishment. The dialogue sparkles in A Rogue's Company, and for those of you who are fans of T.E. Kinsey's Lady Hardcastle mysteries think of the banter between Lady Hardcastle and Flo. (For those who aren't acquainted with Lady Hardcastle, please take note of my recommendation.) Iris and Gwen can keep me laughing, and once the story revs up and really motors along, I cheered (sometimes out loud) whenever Gwen faced down the loathsome Lord Bainbridge.

Granted, the marriage bureau business had only a walk-on part in this book, but it was there, and Iris and Gwen show readers that they know how to come up with innovations to expand their business. I really want it to expand, too, because Allison Montclair has me hook, line, and sinker. I am now in dire need of an annual Sparks & Bainbridge fix. For the uninitiated, as much as I'd like you to start with book one and read the three books in order, you can actually pick up A Rogue's Company and not feel lost or confused. Once you do, you're going to find yourself in need of that annual fix, too. Mark my words.


A Rogue's Company by Allison Montclair
eISBN: 9781250750334
Minotaur Books © 2021
eBook, 342 pages
 
Historical Mystery, #3 Sparks & Bainbridge mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Net Galley

10 comments:

  1. The Marriage Bureau is such an interesting concept and premise, Cathy. I really like the creativity of it. And you make a good point about how important even secondary characters can be. That in itself can be enough to make you eager for the next book.

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    1. I've read more than one book where i cared for the secondary characters a lot more than I did for the main character.

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  2. Kathy, are these of the "cozy" variety? I like what you have to say about the series - especially your obvious enthusiasm for them - but I struggle to get into a cozy mystery anymore, even on television.

    I totally agree on characters being so important, especially in series books. I've read way too many where the secondary characters are so badly neglected by the author that I can barely keep straight in my mind exactly where they fit into the plot; they are just names to keep up with.

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    1. I don't know, Sam. These have some of the hallmarks of a cozy but not all. They are edgier than most, and there's a real feeling of danger in this one, but it still may be too cozy for your taste.

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  3. I love these characters and especially the banter between them. It keeps the story moving right along. I am looking forward to reading this one soon!

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    1. I think you're going to love it, Gretchen!

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  4. Another series I need to try! It sounds like one I'd really like. :)

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    1. I really enjoy it, Lark, and if you get a chance to read it, I hope you do, too. :-)

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  5. Such an interesting premise! A new author to try. :)

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