Select one of the keywords
Point of Honour    by Madeleine E. Robins order for
Point of Honour
by Madeleine E. Robins
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Fallen Woman of good family must, soon or late, descend to whoredom.' From that attention-grabbing first sentence, the reader of Point of Honour knows she is in for something different. Sarah Temperance lives in Regency London in 1810 and is indeed a fallen woman, having eloped to the Continent at age sixteen with her fencing master. Now twenty-eight years old, following her lover's death, she has returned to London. Disowned by most of her scandalized, well-born family, she lives in a garden cottage behind the mansion, where her aunt runs a fashionable high class brothel. Sarah makes her living as a private inquiry agent.

Fans of the wonderful Georgette Heyer Regency novels should enjoy the contrast in this mystery, described by the author as a 'hard-boiled Regency'. The London social setting is the same, with all the high society mores and class hierarchy. However, while some of the Heyer heroines were a bit feisty they, for the most part, adhered to the rules of the times. But Sarah Temperance is an openly independent woman, who dons male clothing when necessary in her investigations and uses her fencing skills (thanks to her earlier lessons) to great effect. While this behavior sets her even further outside polite society, Sarah uses her background and intelligence to function effectively on its edge, and so serves her mainly highborn clients.

At the book's outset, Sarah is hired by Lord Trux on behalf of his unnamed patron, to locate a mysterious antique Italian fan given many years earlier to a paramour. Knowing full well that she has not been given the full information, Sarah starts her search. This takes her from the threadbare residences of several elderly retired gentlemen's mistresses to London's backstreets and their unsavory houses of ill repute. While she does not dwell on the seedier aspects of the times, Robins paints a more full-colored portrait of life in that period than do more traditional Regency authors.

Sarah's investigation occurs against a backdrop of the political struggles going on in 1810 England. King George III has been mad for years and (in the book at least) Queen Charlotte is Regent but is now gravely ill. The Whig and Tory parties vie bitterly to see whose man will become the next Regent. As Sarah searches for the fan, she learns that Trux's patron is Whig leader Lord Veseillon, and that the Tories, led by Lord Balobridge, also want the object. All this attention on a mere fan is very confusing to Sarah, but she skillfully navigates the twists and turns of the mystery and survives several physical attacks. Along the way, she enjoys a romance, although not the typical Regency one.

Sarah Temperance is a one of a kind heroine who has found her own place in a difficult society obsessed with class and reputation. She tells us, 'I lost my virginity. I lost my innocence. The world seems to regard this as the same thing as honor, but I do not.' Sarah is true to herself, and a very honorable woman. Madeleine Robin's next Sarah Temperance novel, Petty Treason is now out, soon to be followed, we hope, by many more books.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews