India Black and the Widow of Windsor
by Carol K. Carr
Cover Artist: Alan Ayers
Review by Mel Jacob
Berkley Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425243190
Date: 04 October 2011 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
India Black, brothel owner and sometime spy, undertakes a mission to save the British Queen's life in Carol Carr's latest Madam of Espionage mystery, India Black and the Widow of Windsor. As before, she works with French of the Prime Minister's staff and street urchin, Vincent. A sťance convinces Queen Victoria to spend Christmas at Balmoral. However, Scotland Yard and Disrali believe Scottish nationalist will strike at the Queen.
India is to portray herself as a maid to the Marchioness of Tullibardine, a close Scottish relative of the Queen, and to spy on the servants. Vincent will work in the stables and keep watch on staff there. French will go as private secretary to the prime minister and sniff among the guests. Scotland Yard is in charge of security.
Feisty and independent, India finds it difficult to play a servant, especially to randy Prince Bertie who pursues anything in skirts. Men find India attractive, but the women consider her pushy and nosy.
The marchioness has an unfortunate snuff habit. When she inhales, it results in horrible sneezes that spew tobacco everywhere. Somewhat shortsighted, she also sometimes inhales almost any powdered substance with awful results. In addition, she has trouble sleeping at night and sends for India to read Shakespeare, the Bible, or other books to her. Long hours and little sleep take a heavy toll and interfere with India's snooping.
Among the suspects she and Vincent identify are a handsome new footman, the deputy housemaster substituting for the ill housemaster, and a stableman displaced by John Brown, the Queen's favorite. French only has to worry about Red Hector, a Scottish nobleman. None, however, appear likely candidates for the Marischal, the leader of the Sons of Arbroath, the Scottish nationalist group with plans to assassinate the Queen.
Emotions run high and French feels compelled to rescue India on several occasions that often lead to an embrace and a kiss. The marchioness warns India to beware Bertie and French.
The Queen leads a charmed life, but refuses to leave Balmoral. After one too many of the marchioness's sneezes, the Queen insists India accompany the woman to meals and prevent any further occurrences.
As always, India manages to surmount all obstacles and refuses to yield the field to French or the Marischal. A thrilling climax with a candlelight chase through a secret tunnel places India in dire jeopardy. Astute mystery readers will identify the Marischal before India does, but many will find the villain a surprise. The wit and intelligence of a self-educated brothel madam will astound some, but makes for fascinating reading. Most readers will anxious await India's next adventure tentatively titled India Black and the Dark Legions.