The theft of rare Greek artifacts from the British Museum is the main mystery in And Only to Deceive, but it’s not the only mystery. Who’s making and buying forged artifacts as well as a possible murder heighten the suspense. Using the 19th-century obsession with classical antiquities as a backdrop, author Tasha Alexander deftly blends interesting characters, historical facts and literature, and intriguing settings. And Only to Deceive is her first novel in the series that features Emily, Lady Ashton.
Set in the late 1880s, the book begins as Emily nears the end of her two-year mourning period for her late husband. Married only a few months before her husband’s death on an African safari, Emily hardly knew her husband and had married him only to escape her mother’s constant demands to marry. When one of her husband’s friends, Colin Hargreaves, visits Emily, he tells her of his promise to her husband to take Emily to visit Lord Ashton’s and now Emily’s villa in Greece. The prospect of this trip leads Emily to her husband’s bookshelves and she discovers his love of Greece and ancient antiquities.
As Emily starts to learn about ancient Greece, its language and art, she not only finds her own capacity for learning but also starts to love her dead husband. Emily’s discovery at her country home of artifacts that should have been in the British Museum starts her on a journey to determine if her late husband had been dealing in black market forgeries. As she works to prove her husband’s innocence, she finds herself being courted by two men, neither of whom she is certain she can trust. Emily, though, finds she enjoys the unique position of widowhood and is not anxious to trade her freedom for a husband any time soon.
While I enjoyed the mystery of the art thefts and forgeries, I think I enjoyed the story of Emily’s journey of self-discovery just as much. Society in upper class Victorian England had many rules and Tasha Alexander highlights the various pressures on women to conform to society’s expectations in her novels. Women’s lives were totally defined by their husbands—finding a husband, marriage, having children, and following the rules of mourning when their husbands died. As Emily ends the prescribed mourning period, she finds herself wanting to be a little bit rebellious; she wants to start pushing back at society’s expectations. As the story progresses, Emily begins to grow as a person and starts to make plans for her future.
If you want to follow the further adventures of Emily, Lady Ashton, you can find them in A Poisoned Season, A Fatal Waltz, Tears of Pearl, Dangerous to Know and to be released this month, A Crimson Warning.
Check the WRL catalog for And Only to Deceive