Lori McD's Reviews > A Covent Garden Mystery

A Covent Garden Mystery by Ashley Gardner
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3.5-4 stars

OK, I'm getting a bit irked at the author... she's starting to hide the necessary pieces of the puzzle until almost the very end of the book, when Captain Lacey suddenly pieces it all together. Now, Lacey always puts the pieces together at the last minute, since the book is through his eyes,. thus the solution has to come at the end. But she usually gives us enough to go on, that we know who we're truly after, and we can safely discard the red herrings for the true culprit. We might not always know the motive, but we know the murderer. Except in the last two books... I don't like this trend, but I enjoy Captain Lacey and his story...

In this book, Lacey stumbles upon his 17 year old daughter, Gabriella, quite literally, in Covent Garden. Gabriella is about to be cheated by a peach vendor, when Lacey comes to her rescue. He doesn't realize it's Gabriella until her mother spies Lacey and cries out her name. James Denis is at work again; he knows that Lacey wants to settle his first marriage once and for all, so that he can make an honest woman of Lady Breckenridge. Denis sees another opportunity to put Lacey so deep in his debt that Lacey can't deny Denis anything he asks, thus neutralizing Lacey's honor and nobility in taking Denis and his "underworld" down.

Yes, Denis has brought Lacey's wife, Carlotta, and her French officer "lover" Auberge, along with Gabriella to London to start the divorce proceedings. It seems that the only way to end the marriage is the public and very difficult way. Lacey and Carlotta have to endure a legal separation, and then Lacey has to publicly accuse Carlotta in the House of Commons of adultery - not hard, since she's had 4 children with Auberge in France after abandoning Lacey 15 years ago and absconding with his daughter. (Trivia: In this age, children were considered the "property" of their father, so Carlotta taking Gabriella away was actually a criminal act!) Carlotta refuses to talk to Lacey, and neither she nor Auberge ever told poor Gabriella that she had any other father than Auberge. Gabriella is quite in shock at learning the truth... finding out that her mother and her "father" have been lying to her. And now, she has a father who wants to keep her in London with her and get to know her...

In the middle of all of this drama, Pomeroy and Thatcher come to Lacey with a mystery: 2 game girls (prostitutes) have gone missing, reported missing by their lovers. From all accounts these game girls were lured away by a "gentleman" who was supposedly promising to take care of them, be their protector. After investigating, the girls' "lovers" are clear - not guilty. But the girls seem to have vanished into thin air, until one of them turns up dead, obviously murdered.

Grenville, Bartholomew, Matthias, Pomeroy, and Thatcher join Lacey in the investigation, along with former game girl Black Nancy and her pal, Felicity. But during the hunt, Gabriella goes missing, too. Lacey is desperate to find her before she, too, turns up dead. Not even Denis and his nefarious network can find Gabriella, it seems.

During the search, Lacey and Auberge come to know one another better. Lacey discovers that Carlotta fled to Auberge in France right before she and Lacey were to return to England, and Auberge tells him why. Carlotta's father was threatening to have their marriage annulled and marry Carlotta off to the beast that her father had promised her to. Lacey discovers that he was a convenient way for Carlotta to escape the beast's and her father's clutches, which is why she so readily agreed to elope with Lacey in the first place. Talk about put a man in his place! And rather than confide in Lacey, she ran off with Auberge. Auberge claims only foolishness, allowing Carlotta to run off with him and take Gabriella instead of telling Lacey the truth back then. Lacey hadn't the money or resources to find them at the time, and he was compelled to follow the drum and his unit, so he had no choice but to leave France and return to England. It's all quite sad, but at least he learns the truth. And Lacey discovers that Auberge truly loves Carlotta and has cared for her and Gabriella and taken good care of them. Auberge wants to be legally wed to Carlotta, and so he's willing to endure what he must. But they must first locate Gabriella.
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While this is a good book and a good mystery, a lot is subjugated to the story of Lacey, Carlotta, Auberge, and Gabriella. We have to watch Lacey in joyous rapture to see his daughter and then in deep despair to see her missing. We have to witness Gabriella trying to deal with this complex lie that she's lived without knowing it, and see a part of Lacey's heart crack when Gabriella runs to Auberge and calls him "papa".

But Lady Breckenridge stands by Lacey and once again, proves her love - yay! Grenville remains a good friend. And for once, James Denis' seeming "hold" over Lacey dissolves, as Denis and his minions can't and don't find or save Gabriella in the end. Only Lacey. Even Brandon and Louisa seem to come around, laying possible groundwork for a different relationship between Brandon and Lacey. Brandon pulls out his military buddies to help in the search, and he doesn't even try to rile Lacey along the way.

The question is, what relationship will Lacey and Gabriella have when this is all over?


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