The Dark Heart of Florence (Lady Emily #15) by Tasha Alexander

1 tiny little star. Meh, just … meh. Emily, Colin and Cecile head to Florence because there has been a murder at the home of Colin’s stepdaughter, the odious and annoying Kat. First off, Kat? In 1904? Nope. Thank goodness she is off the canvas for most of this one. Why is she even in the series?

On to the story: the plot is stultifying: dull, tedious, boring, etc. As usual with this series, the reader expects to be bored to tears wading through, desperately seeking a plot. You won’t be disappointed this time, gentle reader, as Tasha again fails to deliver.

The alternate chapters were actually not completely awful as they served to highlight the piss-poor main chapters. I felt we got two novellas this time: one wasn’t bad and the other was worse. The ‘alternate’ novella lets us know how much Tasha loves Florence. She was also apparently personally scarred by the bonfires of 1497. If she had written this as a full novel, I would have devoured it and given it four stars. The bones of a really interesting character and a story were there but vanished under the weight of Emily and her crap.

The main plot of the book was so generic it could have been any characters at any time. At least in the last book we got telephones and motor cars-everyone was scared spitless of them but they were there. In 1904 Florence, apparently we are back to the dark ages of no way to communicate unless there is a handy street urchin who will deliver a note for a penny. Our characters can also hoof it, walking mile after mile in their S-shape gowns to talk, talk, talk to people who have nothing to do with anything except to allow Tasha to describe Florence from every conceivable angle. Does this advance the plot or develop our characters? Oh, silly reader, of course not.

The thing that made this series so good was the way Emily navigated late Victorian and early Edwardian society, as a WOMAN, to solve murders. The way she interacted with her family and friends was so true to the time. Florence in 1904, though, has changed our Lady Emily and not for the better. For example, the way she interacted with the police was downright weird this time. I didn’t expect her to faint and need smelling salts but, damn, Tasha; 1904 was a different time than 2022, so why is Emily suddenly a strong independent woman/undercover agent when the cops show up? Never mind, she quickly turns into a quivering mess that is also out of character. Make up your mind. And how many times in the series has she gotten soaked in the rain and had a nice hot bath and a cup of tea? For the love of God, give this woman an umbrella.

The series has turned into a main character that could be from any era. Nothing to connect us to the time frame in a meaningful way. The supporting characters in Italy would work in any modern spy thriller and the stupid plot twist of the “graffiti” would be right at home in a Dan Brown book. No reason to have the characters go on (and on and on) about them. There are a few red herrings here but also several interesting developments that were never mentioned again. I won’t spoil the plot (made myself laugh-the plot was spoiled long before I got here!), but there is a very strange death that was in a neat place and could have connected to the ‘novella’ and the main plot, poof, never mentioned again.

We did get our ubiquitous references to Amelia Peabody twice in this one. Let me digress here, I adore the Amelia mystery series. So much that one of my children has a variation on one of the characters’ names for a middle name. Tasha isn’t the only fan. However, when she clumsily inserts a letter that could have been written by a character in the Amelia series, do I expect book sixteen to be anything but an homage to that series? I hope I’m wrong and get to do a post here about how Tasha pulled it together and tells us a tightly plotted Emily and Colin story. I’m going to be right, though.

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